On March 15, I was honored to participate in Public Health Grand Rounds (PHGR), a monthly activity of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The PHGR session focused on the important issue of “Addressing Health Disparities in Early Childhood” and featured four speakers, including me:
- Ross Thompson, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis and Board President, ZERO TO THREE
“Origins and Impacts of Health Disparities in Early Childhood”
- Paul Dworkin, MD, Executive Vice President for Community Child Health & Founding Director, Help Me Grow National Center, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
“Making Connections to Support Healthy Development for All Children”
- Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH, FAAP, Director, Division of Human Development and Disability National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control
“Public Health Programs to Improve Early Childhood Health”
- Mary Ann McCabe, PhD, ABPP, Past-President, Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine
“Strategies to Promote Healthy Behavioral Development in Childhood”
Program organizers asked that I share the story of Help Me Grow and identify our key strategies to address health disparities. I emphasized three key aspects of our work familiar to all affiliates: a focus on vulnerable children who often elude early detection and typically do not meet the relatively restrictive eligibility criteria of state early intervention programs; support for interventions that strengthen protective factors and enable families to mitigate the impact of early adversity and stress; and the imperative of cross-sector collaboration to address the many adverse influences on children’s developmental outcomes. CDC staff, my co-presenters, and the audience reinforced the importance of these themes, which was both validating and inspiring.
While I correctly anticipated the benefits of sharing HMG with the large audience for this event, and of learning from my esteemed co-presenters, I underestimated the value of participating in a remarkably comprehensive planning process.
Course directors Phoebe Thorpe and John Iskander, as well as many CDC staff members, provided support, guidance, and critical feedback heavily informed both the content and the language of my presentation. Through multiple conference calls, CDC leadership and staff expressed an extraordinary level of engagement and interest. I finalized my PowerPoint just days prior to the event, in response to several astute queries posed by CDC Director Tom Frieden — who took time to raise critical questions on the topic of early childhood interventions in the midst of managing the Zika outbreak!
The event also afforded me the opportunity to vet several core concepts guiding our work. In view of the CDC’s world-class expertise in research and evaluation, I explored their response to our evaluating the impact of HMG on children’s developmental outcomes by examining its success in strengthening families’ protective factors known to promote children’s healthy development. Indeed, our demonstration of impact on more proximate measures was regarded as evidence of HMG efficacy, though I was also encouraged to continue to pursue the collection of long-term outcome data on children’s development and academic success.
I also tested our premise that developmental promotion of all children is an even more ambitious and valuable priority than the prevention of delays and disorders. I was gratified that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed promotion as our penultimate goal. In fact, a post-event letter from Director Frieden endorsed the critical importance of developmental promotion.
I returned home from my visit to Atlanta even more confident about the relevance and importance of our work in advancing developmental promotion, early detection, and linkage to services. I hope that you share my enthusiasm and optimism. As always, we welcome your feedback.