The Layers of Children’s Optimal Healthy Development

When it comes to promoting the optimal healthy development of children, there are many layers to consider that go beyond the parameters of traditional medical care.

Here at Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, we embrace an approach that takes into account all of the influences affecting children’s healthy development. To give you a few examples, those include the availability of healthy housing, the safety of neighborhoods and whether families have enough food to eat.

To highlight those complex layers, we developed a flower diagram with each petal representing a crucial area affecting children. The petals join together and ideally blossom into children’s optimal healthy development.

OCCH_Flower_Diagram

“It’s all about the system,” said Paul Dworkin, MD, executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s. “If we are going to be successful in supporting families in ensuring their children’s health and development, we must engage all the sectors that are so critically important to family support.”

The diagram’s foundation lies in the purple petals: child health services, family support and early care and education. Those three areas encompass a traditional approach to the development of children.

However, we quickly realized that advancing optimal healthy development entails much more. So, the flower diagram bloomed to include all of the other categories: faith-based initiatives, child welfare, food and nutrition, housing, economic development, workforce development and employment, arts and culture, neighborhood health and safety, and transportation.

“We are continually emphasizing the importance of different agencies working together, blending administrative and financial resources to achieve common goals,” said Dr. Dworkin. “We are also emphasizing the importance of not exclusively focusing on children with the most complex of medical conditions but expanding that focus to also include all children and families, especially those who are vulnerable and at risk. Also of importance is the recognition that this type of work does yield rewards including financial benefits. There is a return on investment but that return takes years and years to accrue.”

Without this comprehensive approach to optimal healthy development, children would find themselves at an even greater risk for exposure to toxic stress, developmental delays, or behavioral problems, all of which the Office is working so hard to address. In fact, we believe children are even at greater risk if just one petal falls off their particular flower.

You’ll notice the diagram also includes blank petals. That’s because we realize there are other areas affecting child health that we have not labeled. Our diagram, just like the children it is designed to serve, is always evolving as we strive to strengthen families and promote optimal healthy development.

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