The science of child development shows the foundation for sound mental health is built early in life, as early experiences shape the architecture of the developing brain. We know that children whose early care allows for frequent parent-child interaction in safe, positive, language-rich environments are well on their way to developing the skills that will support all future learning. Unfortunately this is not the case for all children, especially those whose caregivers are living in poverty and experiencing the chronic stress that often accompanies it.
Pediatric Social Work and Home Visiting is a program of Child Saving Institute that partners with pediatric clinics serving high levels of low-income populations to promote screening and early identification of risk factors in children 0-5 years of age. The Ages and Stages-Social Emotional screening tool is administered during regularly scheduled well-child check-ups. During the well child visit of children two to twelve months, mothers are also screened using the Edinburgh Depression Scale. The parents of children whose score does not show a need for services receive a brief consultation on how to continue to support their child’s developmental growth and empower parents to be a part of their child’s healthy development.
For individuals scoring in the “concern” range, the program provides consultation to the pediatrician regarding the needs of the family. The family is provided with follow-up in person either at the clinic site or in the family’s home or community setting to provide support and assess the child and/or parent needs and strengths and make appropriate referrals. Interim home visitation occurs at least bi-weekly providing support until the community referral source begins services, ensuring the linkage to service is made.
More vulnerable families with high needs are provided home visitation more frequently. Additionally, longer term home visitation is provided if there is a waiting list for the community referral resource or the parent has needs that can not be met by more traditional resources.
Strong communication between the child’s pediatrician and the program is imperative to the success of the family and ensures that needs are not missed and contributing factors are identified. The following comments are from clinic professionals:
- “The social worker learned things that doctors don’t. The social worker has a set of tools and the context to ask questions that the medical professionals do not have. Sometimes families are “evasive” but they seem to open up to the social worker.”—Pediatrician
- “The pediatric social worker program opened our eyes to what is going on. The conditions are much poorer for families than we ever thought. We wouldn’t know this without having the social worker and her ability to do home visits.”—Pediatrician
- Patients share information with the social worker that they do not tell the doctors or nurses. Social workers are in a unique position to learn more about patient’s lives. In the clinic they have more time to spend with patients; doctors often have patient appointments every ten minutes.”—Pediatric Nurse
In addition to clinic screenings and home visits, the program also provides play groups to increase parent support networks and parent-child interaction. The program works to integrate positive parent-child interactions and provide parents with child development knowledge through supportive play experiences and builds on the family’s natural interaction style.