Good Medicine For Healthy Child Development: Nurturing Relationships

Good Medicine For Healthy Child Development: Nurturing Relationships

Yet, in recent years it has become clear that families need and deserve support to care for more than just the physical health of their children. What if pediatric care could be transformed to actively partner with parents to better support children’s healthy social and emotional development, too?

That is the question that drives the Pediatrics Supporting Parents (PSP) national funder collaborative. To date, six national funders (the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Einhorn Collaborative, Overdeck Family Foundation, Perigee Fund, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) have committed a total of $13.25 million over five years to invest in aligning clinical practice with a mounting body of evidence that demonstrates the benefits of leveraging pediatric well-care to support improved social and emotional outcomes in young children and to strengthen parent–child relationships by partnering with providers and parents.

Significance Of Healthy Social And Emotional Development

The first years of life, marked by rapid brain development, are a period of both opportunity and sensitivity. Healthy social and emotional development centers on very young children’s emerging ability to form secure relationships, experience and regulate their emotions, explore the world around them, and learn. A child’s social and emotional well-being impacts their ability to lead a healthy life—physically and emotionally—into adulthood and has been shown to influence their capacity to thrive in school.

One critical factor influencing a child’s healthy development is the nurturing relationships they form with their primary caregivers. Through these close bonds, babies and toddlers learn to develop their sense of self and regulate their emotions. When children have strong, healthy bonds with their parents or caregivers, those relationships also serve as a buffer against everyday stressors as well as more chronic adversity that children may experience due to structural racism and poverty.

The Context

Realizing PSP’s vision requires addressing both challenges in the health care system and in broader society. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained our public health infrastructure, fueled a mental wellness crisis for parents and children, and fragmented our social networks in ways that will likely have long-lasting negative impacts. For families of color, who comprise 48 percent of all births, the pandemic has only intensified longstanding health and racial inequities intrinsic to care in America. Even before COVID-19, pediatric health care transformation was a challenging area of focus as most cost savings to the health system are found in adults with chronic and/or severe health conditions, as compared to their younger counterparts who are typically healthier. Further, little priority is placed on disease prevention and health promotion, given that most savings to the health care system (and/or other sectors) are accrued in the future.

Despite these challenges, the pandemic has motivated health care innovations and brought greater attention to (1) children’s social and emotional health; (2) how nurturing relationships can help a child cope with stress and adversity; and (3) the systems that continue to drive racial and health inequities.

PSP’s Approach To Systems Change

To transform the standard of early well-child care, PSP is addressing a number of structural barriers in children’s health care while sharing the clinical experiences of families and providers to inform policy and systems change. Limited visit time, insufficient provider reimbursement, incompatible electronic medical records, technology inefficiencies, and insufficient clinician training all make it challenging for providers to embrace a focus on social and emotional development and nurturing parent-child relationships.

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