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III - The Politics of Children's Health

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 August 2023

Martin Halliwell
Affiliation:
University of Leicester
Sophie A. Jones
Affiliation:
University of Strathclyde
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Summary

In 1946, Dr Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, a new kind of parenting manual for the masses. Renowned for transforming the field of parental advice by encouraging parents to trust their instincts, Spock's ostensibly permissive approach was underpinned by the authority of his paediatrician's white coat that symbolized the privileged role of science during the Cold War. By the late 1960s and the publication of the third edition of Baby and Child Care, Spock's interventions in global politics, as an activist against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War, projected his image outside the realm of the nuclear family, pointing to the broader political struggles that shape the world in which children's health will either decline or flourish. As a 2011 profile of Spock in American Journal of Public Health notes, this purveyor of parental advice was also ‘committed to securing a healthy future for the young patients he saw in his practice’. These two aspects of Spock's career exemplify a tension at the heart of the politics of children's health in post-1945 America. The notion that the health of children is the product of prudent parental decision-making within the confines of the nuclear family, on the one hand, and embedded in global struggles for the transformation of society, on the other, ani-mates all five chapters in this section, spanning the fields of political science, gender and cultural studies, history, political theory and human ecology.

In the first chapter of this section, Alice Sardell investigates the expansion of children's health insurance coverage since the 1980s. Drawing on archival evidence and interviews with key policy actors, Sardell tracks the incremental process through which the federal funding of children's health insurance in the US was secured. Building on her 2014 book Insuring Children's Health, Sardell contextualizes the question of health insurance for children within the broader field of US health insurance, in which support is predicated on membership of a population deemed ‘deserving’, in lieu of a universal health care system. As such, the expansion of health insurance to children in the 1990s involved a community of advocates for child health from both inside and outside of the federal government.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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