By: Paul Dworkin, MD
We’ve made remarkable strides in pediatric research in recent decades, and we know that even more impressive advances are on the horizon. Of particular interest to those of us who work at Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office) are evidence-informed practices that strengthen families to promote children’s optimal healthy development.
A recent policy commentary published in the journal Pediatric Research in January, authored by Paul J. Chung, MD, and the Pediatric Policy Council, aligns with our philosophy that working to strengthen children and families not only provides a way to build stronger communities, but also provides a path to help all children reach their fullest potential.
In the article, Chung and colleagues state, “…ultimately, the most important thing we can do is to demonstrate, through our work, how pediatric research makes children and families stronger, and to advocate passionately for all innovations, activities, and programs that research informs us will make children and families stronger.”
The essay came in response to an earlier article published in Pediatric Research in September 2016 that detailed seven of the top achievements in pediatric research over the last 40 years. The identified achievements included preventing diseases with life-saving vaccines; saving the lives of premature babies by helping them breathe; reducing sudden infant death syndrome by educating parents to put babies to sleep on their backs; curing acute lymphocytic leukemia, a common childhood cancer; preventing HIV transmission from mother to baby; increasing life expectancy for children with chronic illnesses such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis; and saving lives with car seats and seat belts.
There is no doubt those seven named advances in pediatric research, many of them clinical in nature, have revolutionized the health and well-being of our youngest citizens. However, there is also no doubt that a broader focus on strengthening families will have an even greater impact on children’s health outcomes in the future.
At the Office, we embed the Strengthening Families framework, championed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy based in Washington D.C., into all of our programs and community outreach efforts. The framework empowers parents to be resilient in times of adversity, enhances their understanding of child development, encourages them to connect with other parents, provides families with concrete support in times of need, and builds the social and emotional competence of children.
In our quest to promote the optimal healthy development of all children, we strongly believe that enhanced outcomes hinge on a strong family foundation.
We believe, as Chung and colleagues do, that all future pediatric research must demonstrate an ability to strengthen children and families. As they conclude in their essay, “Only if we inspire belief in what’s possible will the long-term policy conditions necessary for the next seven great achievements in pediatric research (whatever those achievements may be) become a reality.”