Children at Risk: How Can Primary Care Play a Bigger Role?

By Renee Williams, Recruitment and Outreach Specialist, Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC)
Bonnie Thompson, CHIPRA Grant Family Leader – Massachusetts Family Voices, FCSN

Research shows the negative impact early childhood adversities have on healthy development. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study suggests that childhood adversities are major risk factors for illness and death in adulthood. Identifying children at risk as early as possible creates an opportunity for interventions to greatly improve outcomes for children, families, schools, and communities.

One opportunity is the series of ten “well child” visits with the pediatrician between the ages of 0 and 3. Approximately 88% of children attend these visits. These visits are a great place to identify children at risk and intervene during a critical stage of development. But how do providers appropriately identify who is at risk and provide help?

The NICHQ (National institute for Children’s Health Quality), the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and Ariadne Labs organized a forum to identify ways to promote social-emotional development for children ages 0 to 3. The “Promoting Optimal Child Development Expert Meeting” was held on June 16-17. The 75 participants, who included Bonnie Thompson and Renee Williams from the Federation for Children with Special Needs, were pediatricians, community leaders, advocates, public and private sector administrators, teachers, and parents.

The intention of the forum was to address the following questions: What is the current state of knowledge of the importance of social-emotional health? How can we promote social-emotional development in pediatric primary care? Which children are we most worried about and how can pediatricians identify them? What approaches could be used if a child at risk is identified?

Attendees discussed research, heard from providers, and listened to the stories of families. Working in small groups, attendees explored more deeply the questions above. The expertise and experiences of attendees led to engaging conversations during brainstorming sessions. Many suggestions and recommendations were generated. NICHQ plans to compile the information gathered and report back to participants on next steps. The forum was an important building block to future efforts to promote children’s healthy social-emotional development in primary care settings.