Social work students explore lead poisoning of children in NYS, Syracuse, at 21st Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Forum

A group of people listen to a speaker in a courtroomOn November 1, students in Syracuse University’s School of Social Work in Falk College explored one of today’s major public health threats that hits very close to home: lead poisoning of children in New York State and specifically, Syracuse. Each year an estimated 1,800 children are found to be lead-poisoned in New York State.

With a focus on implications for public policy and social work practice, the 21st Annual James L. Stone Legislative Policy Forum brought students together with neighborhood, community and political leaders, and other experts to understand what can and needs to be done about the unacceptably large number of children exposed to lead.

Any amount of lead in the body can be harmful, causing life-long cognitive and neurological delays and behavioral problems, among other issues. It is caused by inhaling or ingesting microscopic lead dust that comes from lead paint in older homes, the dirt where children play, water flowing through lead pipes into our homes, and other less pervasive sources.

Students heard from panelists and speakers including state and county officials and others with political, professional and personal experience addressing lead poisoning from many aspects, including:

  • social, economic, and political forces giving rise to this problem;
  • implications of poisoning for children, families and communities;
  • ways social workers, social work services, public health professionals and policy advocates touch families experiencing the lead poisoning of a child;
  • efficacy of existing laws, regulations and programs;
  • legislation, administrative changes and advocacy civic efforts, and;
  • practical steps for remediating and eliminating lead poisoning of children.

Keynote speaker, Hon. Gustavo Rivera, senator, New York State Senate, District 33, Chairman, Committee on Health, presented, “Legislative Action to End Lead Poisoning of Children in New York State.” Panels included:

Making State and Local Change
Moderator: Eric Kingson, professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work
Panelists: Hon. Rachel May, Senator, New York State, District 53, chair, Committee on Aging and chair, Legislative Commission on Rural Resources; Hon. David H. Knapp, Chair, Onondaga County Legislature; Hon. Pamela J. Hunter, assemblywoman, New York State Assembly, District 128; chair, Subcommittee on Women Veterans.

Lead Poisoning of Children in New York and Syracuse: Poverty, Race, & Environmental Injustice
Moderator: Nancy Mudrick, professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work,
Panelists: Sandy Lane, professor of public health and anthropology, Syracuse University, Research Professor Upstate Medical University; Robert Searing, curator of history, Onondaga Historical Association; Hon. Joe Driscoll, 5th District councilor, Syracuse Common Council, founder, Syracuse Lead Prevention Coalition; Kelly J. Mikullitz, Esq., supervising partner, O’Connell and Aronowitz Lead Poisoning and Toxic Exposure Litigation Group and first vice president, Brain Injury Association of New York State.

The Lived Experience: How Lead Poisoning Affects the Lives of Children, Families, and Service Providers
Moderator, Carrie Smith, associate professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work
Panelists: Darlene Medley, parent and member, Families for Lead Freedom Now; Oliviere Sekarore, bridging case manager, Refugee & Immigrant Self-Empowerment (RISE), and; Ellen Morrissey, grandmother, member, Families for Lead Freedom Now, and founder of an online lead poisoning support group.

Public/Private Collaborations to End Lead Poisoning in Syracuse
Moderator, Stefanie R. Pilkay, assistant professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work
Panelists: Peter Dunn, president & CEO Central New York Community Foundation; Stefanie Pasquale, commissioner, Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, City of Syracuse; Debra Lewis, MSW, lead program coordinator, Onondaga County Department of Health; Paul Ciavarri, community development organizer, Community Counsel Project of Legal Services of Central New York.

The day-long event concluded with comments from Professor Kingson and MSW graduate student, Ellan Ryan. Ryan served as the student conference coordinator working closely with event organizers Professors Kingson and Carrie Jefferson Smith, along with director of the School of Social Work and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Syracuse University, Keith Alford.

School of Social Work alumnus, James L. Stone, MSW ’64 created an endowed fund to support this event into the future and was involved in this year’s event. “Once again, the School of Social Work has brought together an amazing and informative panel of experts, law makers and committed community leaders who bring clarity, understanding, and passion to a significant issue that is relevant to social work practice and policy. We are indebted to James Stone for his generosity in endowing this event,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, Dean, Falk College.