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Changing demographics in Kane County, nation

Created: Saturday, August 11, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Deborah Riddell has always tried to share a few laughs with her patients.

As a certified nurse midwife and founder of Women First Midwifery, Riddell for decades has been present for some of the most joyous moments in the lives of new mothers, and fathers, in central and southern Kane County each year, helping them welcome children into the world.

But in recent years, Riddell, who practices at Provena Mercy Medical Center and Rush Copley Hospital, both in Aurora, and many of the expectant mothers she cares for have had a new reason to chuckle: Riddell’s occasional cultural or linguistic faux pas.

And in recent years, the potential for such humorous social missteps has increased because the region’s population – and particularly the population of new mothers and young children – has diversified.

“It’s an important focus for any care provider, to be at the top of their expertise, to be as culturally competent as possible,” Riddell said. “That can cover things like learning how people of different cultures respond to a crisis, how they approach health care, how to avoid offending them, how to compliment their child and even how close to stand to them when speaking.

“But sometimes, you can be wrong. But if you approach people in a respectful way, I’ve found they are usually gracious, and even willing to laugh about it with you after.”

The U.S. Census Bureau reported the U.S. population passed a significant milestone in its history: For the first time, from 2010 to 2011, the number of children born to racial and ethnic minorities exceeded children born to white parents.

Census Bureau data reveals the Hispanic population in Kane County has surged in recent decades; those of Hispanic descent account for 31 percent of all people in Kane County.

But the demographic shift has been particularly pronounced among the youngest of the county’s residents.

While the number of minority births nationwide recently surpassed those of white births, the transition appears to have occurred in Kane County years earlier. Census data reveals in July 2011, among children under age 5, about 40 percent of those in Kane County are classified as “non-Hispanic white.”

Hispanic children accounted for about 46 percent of the county’s population of children under age 5.

Children classified as “black alone” made up 7.5 percent of Kane’s youngest population segment. And children classified as “Asian alone” accounted for 3.6 percent of that demographic in the county.

From 2010 to 2011, the number of children born to white parents declined by almost 2.5 percent. At the same time, the number of children born to Hispanic or Asian parents edged up by a fraction of one percent, respectively, and those born to black parents increased by 2.6 percent.

The numbers did not come as a surprise to local health care providers engaged in assisting expectant mothers.

Riddell said at her practice, which assists pregnant women primarily in Kane, DuPage and Kendall counties, the number of women that could be classified as racial and ethnic minorities has surged.

She noted the number of Hispanic mothers has particularly increased as a share of her patients. Riddell said anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of the about 180 babies she delivers each year are born to women of Hispanic or Latino descent.

That change prompted her to make some changes at her practice. Two decades ago, Riddell rarely presided over the birth of a Hispanic baby. Now, her changing patient population compelled her to contract with translators to ensure proper communication with patients.

“Many of these women will often try to communicate in English, and are proud of their English, which is usually much better than my Spanish,” Riddell said with a laugh. “But when I am trying to convey essential medical instructions and advice, I need to make sure they fully understand it.”

As of July 1, 2011, 50.4 percent of children under 1 year old nationwide were classified as minorities, meaning they were a race other than non-Hispanic white. A year earlier, 49.5 percent of newborn children were so classified by the Census Bureau.

Further, the Census Bureau reported 49.7 percent of children ages 5 years old and younger were minorities in July 2011, up from 49 percent a year earlier. Overall, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 36.6 percent of the U.S. population, up from 36.1 percent in 2010, the Census Bureau said.

Maria Aurora Diaz, director of Community Health and Diabetes at Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, said local health professionals in recent years have noted declining birth rates among most racial and ethnic groups.

But the decline, she said, has been most pronounced among the white population.

“Almost all birth rates are coming down right now, but whites are declining the fastest,” Diaz said.

She said the rapid, ongoing demographic changes are prompting challenges for a host of local organizations, including health care providers, governments and businesses, who must, in some instances, find new ways of delivering services to their communities.

Diaz noted those engaged in community health promotion, for instance, are concentrating on improving prenatal care among minority populations. As many as one-third to half of women in Kane County either lack access to prenatal care or decline to pursue it.

For Hispanics in particular, overcoming the language barrier is key, she said. Community health programs aimed at diabetes treatment and obesity prevention already produce similar results among all races when communicated in a culturally sensitive manner.

She said such communication will become crucial as the county diversifies racially, ethnically and culturally.

“We’ve already had our ‘ah-ha’ moment, when we saw that the Hispanic population has tripled in the county since 1990,” Diaz said. “So, this big increase, now, it’s not a surprise.”

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