Asthma continues to be a major public health concern affecting 26.5 million Americans nationwide. Currently, it is the most common chronic condition among children with approximately 6.1 million children under the age of 18 diagnosed with asthma, and the third leading cause of hospitalizations in children. Asthma also has a significant financial impact, as it is currently responsible for an annual expenditure of $50.3 billion in healthcare costs and leads to numerous missed school and work days approximating $3 billion. Fortunately, asthma symptoms and costs can be controlled when affected individuals have access to appropriate care and education. Therefore, there is an increasing need to provide proper asthma education to patients and their families in order to prevent recurrent ER visits, hospitalizations, and even death. (more…)
The negative effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on the health and development of children have been well known in the field of pediatrics for a long time. This topic has recently come back into the public spotlight in the wake of the tragic separation of children from their parents at the southern border of the United States. Given these events, it is important to remind ourselves of the impact of such traumatic events on these children and on the countless other children within the United States who fall victim to similar stressors.
What is an Adverse Childhood Experience?
ACEs can be thought of as anything that causes toxic stress. As described by the Harvard Center on Childhood Development, toxic stress involves experiences of strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity that can negatively affect a child’s physical and mental health . These stressful experiences are often worsened by poor social support systems for the child. The Kaiser ACE study looked at 3 types of adverse experience that could lead to toxic stress: abuse (emotional, physical, sexual), neglect, and household challenges (substance abuse, mental illness, violent treatment of partner, parental separation, or member of household sent to prison) .
What is the impact of ACEs?
The Kaiser ACE Study looked at surveys of over 17,000 people between 1995 and 1997 that asked questions regarding their childhood experiences, current health status, and behaviors . Almost two-thirds of adults surveyed had at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. This study continues today through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which, as of 2014, has the participation of 14 states and the District of Columbia . Most importantly these studies consistently show a dose-response relation between ACEs and negative health and well-being outcomes. This means the more ACEs you had as a child, the more likely you were to have negative outcomes as an adult, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, asthma, depression, disability, and unemployment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the lifetime costs associated with child maltreatment are about $124 billion .
What can we do to help as pediatricians and as citizens?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for alleviating childhood stressors focus on 3 major areas: identifying stressors, connecting to community resources, and advocacy [4,5].
As pediatricians, we often have insufficient time to spend with our patients and their families, but, as evidenced above, it is incredibly important that we make the identification of outside stressors an integral part of our social histories. Child safety, substance use, and sexual activity are generally well screened for, but parental health and societal barriers are less common screening questions. Some examples of important questions to include for parents and caregivers are :
- Food security: Are there times when you don’t have enough food?
- Income: Do you ever have trouble making ends meet?
- Housing: Is housing ever a problem for you?
- Supplemental Child Care: Is your child in Head Start, preschool or other childhood programs? Are you pulled away from caring for your child too much by your job or other responsibilities?
- Parental Mental Health: Do you take medication for a mental health condition or have you ever been diagnosed with one?
All questions should be posed in a non-judgmental way with an emphasis on the pediatrician’s ability to connect the family with helpful services. In an ideal world, we as pediatricians should be aware of the resources available to our patients’ families, but in reality our attention and time may be stretched too thin to accommodate such constantly-changing information. An incredibly helpful resource for families and pediatricians is 2-1-1. This is a nation-wide service provided by United Way to connect families with local resources such as food pantries, crisis centers, and housing support . Families with identified problems can call 2-1-1 for assistance or www.211.org can be pulled up in the pediatrician’s office for directories of available resources in the area.
Advocacy can be taken up by pediatricians and citizens alike. As a new pediatrician, I am already incredibly frustrated by the lack of resources and societal support for my patients and their families. It is so disheartening to see news like the tragic separation of children from their families at the border when the terrible effects of such adverse childhood experiences have been well known for so long. The takeaway message I would like to stress to any readers of this post is that childhood welfare is not partisan. Government funds will not be wasted on this issue, and children will not be made lazy by receiving assistance. Increased childhood welfare could alleviate many causes of ACEs which lead to suffering and wasted human potential on an incredible scale. I implore any readers to find an issue they feel passionately about, and look for ways to help. These may include registering to vote, writing your representatives, supporting child advocacy campaigns on social media, making donations or volunteering for local charities like food banks, shelters, or child care centers. For information on advocacy issue you may visit the websites below for more information.
Benjamin Masserano, MD
Despite the large role that technology plays in our society, delivery of health care continues to mostly occur in a face-to-face setting between doctor and patient. Telemedicine offers the opportunity for providers and patients to communicate remotely via video interfacing and mobile technology while still allowing for accurate diagnosis, quality doctor-patient interactions, and monitoring for complex medical needs. As healthcare providers, we must acknowledge that this form of interaction allows physicians to easily follow a patient’s progress, and save time and resources for our patients.
Children are indirectly exposed to acts of violence and terrorism almost continuously via the media. News media continually cycles global events onto screens in every household. The stress of witnessing a shooting is no longer limited to the bystanders and civilians caught on the scene, but is spread diffusely across state and national borders to viewers in their homes including children. Pediatricians can help children and their caretakers process these tragedies better.
Exposure to such news stories can contribute to a stressful environment for the child. In recent years the AAP has focused on ‘toxic stress’ in a child’s life. Toxic stress has been defined as “the excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships” (National Council of Science: Excessive stress disrupts the development of brain architecture). A growing body of evidence suggests that ecology and biology interact to effect development, i.e., the ecobiodevelopmental framework. In the case of toxic stress, a stressful ecology inculcates lasting detrimental effects in biology and behavior. It can lead to development of poor coping skills, unhealthy lifestyle choices, chronic cardiovascular diseases and serves to perpetuate health disparities to mention a few.
Opinions vary on the extent and significance of the effect of exposure to news media coverage of acts of terror and violence. Increasingly, after such an incident, many articles emerge suggesting how parents should talk to their children about violence. Unfortunately, many children do not have the “buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships” with their parents. Parents themselves may face a difficult time coming to terms with the same tragedies. This gap can be bridged by the pediatrician, school and public policy.
Pediatricians can routinely screen for toxic stress. The AAP has put forward many helpful resources which advise parents on how to talk to their children regarding media violence, tragedies they may have witnessed, school shootings and disasters. Whenever such news is circulating, pediatricians can ask parents if they have trouble communicating with their children about it, expand on their anticipatory guidance using the pre-existing AAP guidelines and recommend appropriate resources to them. Further, pediatricians in collaboration with mental health professionals can meet with parent-teacher associations to share how children are able to best process these events.
Schools can engage their own mental health services and counselors to have a discourse with children in an age-appropriate manner. In the absence of adequate resources, these sessions could be done in groups and limited to when the event is local.
Finally, state government officials can improve funding for mental health services for children and implement strategies to incentivize an increase in the mental health professionals catering to the pediatric population. Legislators can formulate guidelines for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum for grades K-12 as exist for pre-kindergarten. As of December 2015, free-standing guidelines for Social and Emotional Learning exist only in the states of Illinois, West Virginia and Kansas. Bills proposing training of teachers and principals to address social and emotional development needs of students have been previously introduced in the U.S. House (H.R.850; H.R.497) and the U.S Senate (S.897) in 2015. In the same year, a bill (HB 3289) was also introduced in the Texas Legislature proposing formulation of a local school health advisory committee to address mental health concerns existing in school efforts and to make recommendations to the school district concerning the integration of social and emotional learning into the academic curriculum.
Adopting such a multi-pronged approach will better preserve the childhoods of the current generation and safeguard their adult lives as well.
1. National Scientific Council. Excessive stress disrupts the development of brain architecture. Journal of Children’s Services. 2014 Jun 10;9(2):143-53. Accessed July 11, 2016. URL: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2005/05/Stress_Disrupts_Architecture_Developing_Brain-1.pdf
2. Shonkoff, J.P.; Garner, A.S. Technical Report: The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics. 2012. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2663
3. Committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health, committee on early childhood, adoption, and dependent care, and section on developmental and behavioral pediatrics. AAP Policy Statement: Early childhood adversity, toxic stress, and the role of the pediatrician: translating developmental science into lifelong health. Pediatrics. 2012. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2662
4. Busso, D.S.; McLaughlin, K.A.; Sheridan, M.A. Media exposure and sympathetic nervous system reactivity predict PTSD symptoms after the Boston marathon bombings. Depress Anxiety. 2014 July ; 31(7): 551–558. doi:10.1002/da.22282
5. Marie Leiner, M.; Peinado, J.; Villanos, M.T.M.; Lopez, I.; Uribe, R.; Pathak, I. Mental and emotional health of children exposed to news media of threats and acts of terrorism: the cumulative and pervasive effects. Frontiers in Pediatrics. 2016. doi: 10.3389/fped.2016.00026
6. Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. Identifying K-12 Standards for SEL in all 50 States. 2015. Accessed July 9, 2016. URL: https://pedsadvocacy.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/a46cb-state-scorecard-summary-table-for-k-12-12-16-15.pdf
7. Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. Identifying Preschool Standards for SEL in all 50 States. 2015. Accessed July 9, 2016. URL: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/513f79f9e4b05ce7b70e9673/t/55df7c05e4b031d82f728c5d/1440709637809/preschool-table-8-27-15.pdf
8. Texas Education Agency. Accessed July 9, 2016. URL: http://tea.texas.gov/index2.aspx?id=2147495508
Gohar Warraich, M.D.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that revolutionized the relationship between the American work force and medical care. The law grants employees the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work due to the birth of a child or to take care of serious health needs for themselves or their immediate families. However, FMLA omits much of the American work force and only guarantees unpaid medical leave. This means that the protection offered by FMLA is unavailable and inadequate for many American families, leaving the health of millions of American children is at risk. As pediatricians we can advocate for our patients by supporting legislation that expands FMLA. (more…)
The following is a general outline on approaching care of a refugee or immigrant child.
Comprehensive Health Screen –In addition to a general history and physical, providers should be aware of the unique health care needs of the immigrant or refugee child. The following are examples of what a pediatrician should consider when evaluating the health of an immigrant or refugee child:
- Nutrition (under-nutrition, malnutrition, vitamin/ nutrient deficiency or obesity)
- Exposures (lead, opium, heroin, betel nut, herbal treatments)
- Infectious Diseases (endemic to country of origin)
- Mental Health (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Cultural Practices (female genital cutting or traditional cutting)
Access- connect children with public benefits and ensure that there is proper access to healthcare while in the States. (more…)
Head Start began in 1965 with the aim to provide children from low income families with skills to be ready for and to succeed in kindergarten and in life. It now serves nearly 1 million children from birth to age 5 years with comprehensive early learning services in classrooms, home-based programs and family child care partners. Pediatricians should promote Head Start in patient visits and through advocacy efforts at local, state and federal levels. (more…)
Texas House Bill 4 introduced this session seeks to regulate the quality of pre-kindergarten programs that eligible Texas children receive. The measure includes a provision to authorize state payment up to $1,500 per child to the schools to ensure the programs are effective. It requires that teachers be certified or have at least eight years of experience and that the student:teacher ratio be no more than 18:1. It also requires reporting of data to the state to regulate quality and track outcomes in these existing pre-kindergarten programs. Programs must also have a curriculum and a family engagement plan to maintain “high levels of family involvement and positive family attitudes toward education”. It does not expand enrollment, nor would it increase from the current half-day model.
Current opposition to the bill is reminiscent of 1971 and the failure to establish universal childcare for all American children. At that time, the Comprehensive Child Development Act had passed both houses of Congress. Before being signed into law, it was vetoed by President Nixon. Various repudiated the legislation as the “Sovietization” of American children. Opponents argued that the law took the rights of child-rearing away from parents and placed them with the government. They characterized the act as an attempt to indoctrinate American children, and further stated that children should stay at home with their mothers. This same argument is being revived today by some opponents of House Bill 4. Other opponents are rejecting this bill because they believe more could be done by expanding pre-kindergarten enrollment to allow every child to participate. Others withhold support claiming a lack of evidence to support early childhood education as effective.
With many more women fully employed now, childcare and early childhood education is a clear necessity for most families. High quality early educational programs have demonstrated substantial effects on social and cognitive outcomes for children. Some studies also show a reduction in crime and arrests of the participants in their later adult years. Two aspects which are crucial for a program to be effective are limitation of class size and the amount of individualized attention that each child receives. House Bill 4 lacks content to address those aspects, and it does not include a requirement to expand pre-kindergarten programs from half-day to full-day
As of May 7, 2015, House Bill 4 has been approved by both the House and Senate in Texas. When this bill is signed into law by Governor Abbot, we will have taken a step to help some Texas children reach their full potential. I encourage my colleagues to continue to advocate for all of our children. Universal early childhood education will benefit Texas families. Continue to raise awareness for this need by writing your state legislators to expand pre-kindergarten programs to give every Texas child the opportunity to benefit.
Stephanie Bousquet, MD
Badger, E. (2014, June 23). That one time America almost got universal child care. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/23/that-one-time-america-almost-got-universal-child-care/
Barnett, W. (2011). Effectiveness of Early Educational Intervention. Science, 975-978.
The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation [Motion picture]. California Newseel with Vital Pictures.
A proposed federal rule accepting comments until April 15, 2015 proposes changes to meal pattern requirements for young children served by the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to better align with updated nutrition guidelines. Several proposed revisions would extend to affect the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Special Milk Program to be more consistent across all Child Nutrition programs, as well as move toward more nutritious meals for children in day care. (more…)