Addressing Pandemic Needs

Pivoting to Address Pandemic Needs of Children and Families

By: Paul H. Dworkin, MD

Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health is always committed to strengthening families and communities to promote children’s optimal health, development and well-being. However, we find our mission to be of critical importance now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of our programs have pivoted from their day-to-day activities so they can respond to the most pressing pandemic needs of families and their children during this difficult time.

Surveying the Needs of Families

Our Help Me Grow National Center conducted a survey of its affiliates around the country to determine the needs for which families are most frequently seeking support. Thirty-two affiliates responded to the survey and reported the most pressing needs of families to be as follows:

  • Formula, food, diapers and wipes
  • Childcare for essential workers
  • Perinatal and postpartum mental health supports and services

Affiliates are now utilizing this information to ensure they are prepared to respond to inquiries from families and can quickly connect them to resources that are available to help meet these needs.

Partnering with Foundations to Provide Emergency Support for Families

The Help Me Grow National Center received support from the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation to engage Spring Impact, a global consulting group that focuses on scaling social impact projects. They are now working together to identify and spread effective approaches that address the short- and long-term needs of children and families across the country due to this pandemic. In addition, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation has generously offered to shift funding from the cancelled 2020 Help Me Grow National Forum to support stipends for at least three communities participating in the Spring Impact project. The stipends will offset their time and effort in developing and disseminating recommended family support strategies.

The J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation also encouraged the Help Me Grow National Center to engage the University of Oregon’s Center for Translational Neuroscience to provide data to policy makers and philanthropists so they are able to prioritize how best to respond to the needs of children and families as a direct result of this pandemic. The National Center will assist Spring Impact to leverage Help Me Grow affiliates to collect such data from the families they serve.

In addition, our Practice Quality Improvement Program received approval from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to reallocate grant funding to directly serve families in this challenging time. The funding was originally targeted for an in-person training event to help make families more resilient in difficult times. It will now be used to share such information through My Family Is Strong! Community Care Bags. The bags will go to families in need in Hartford and will strengthen their resilience through outreach, education and financial support in the form of a gift card. Learn more about this project here.

Embracing Virtual Learning Opportunities

Many of our programs have successfully pivoted to offer virtual training opportunities. Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center (IPC) shifted its Hayley Petit Injury & Violence Prevention Fellowships, which are generously supported by the Petit Family Foundation, to an online learning program. Our Resident Education in Advocacy and Community Health program, which is one of several training pathways for pediatric residents, converted to a virtual curriculum, which has served to increase engagement among the residents. In addition, Educating Practices, which is a signature innovation of the Child Health and Development Institute that is supported by the Office, transitioned its 21 training modules to online sessions, developed an online presentation related to family stress during COVID-19 for community providers to access, and hosted a webinar on behavioral  health resources that are available for families.

Monitoring Changes to Patterns of Injuries and Violence

The IPC is now in the process of researching changes in injury and violence patterns due to the pandemic. Such changes include an expected decrease in motor vehicle collisions and an expected increase in domestic violence and child abuse. The IPC hopes to bring attention to such changes to inform the distribution of resources during this time of need. As part of that, IPC researchers developed a webinar for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and community providers highlighting the impact that increased intimate partner violence during COVID-19 is having on children.

Preventing Childhood Obesity

The Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right (SCOR) program shifted to disseminate healthy eating and exercise messages through virtual technology. Since SCOR can no longer hold its community wellness events at family and community centers due to COVID-19, the program pivoted to develop online videos with its partners. Its first video features Zumbini with Mr. Rey, a dance and movement class for caregivers and kids from infancy through preschool. It is now available for viewing on Connecticut Children’s YouTube channel.

Maintaining Capacity to Address Needs

Care Coordinators at Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination are reaching out to the families they serve to ask if they need support and to ensure that their needs are met during this difficult time. This includes connecting families to resources that meet basic needs, such as food services, and helping them navigate the complex unemployment system. They are also referring families to behavioral health services and supports, if families request and need such services. The Center also continues to take on new clients, as so many families now find themselves in need of support.

This is an unprecedented time of need. At Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, we understand that helping families in challenging times is of critical importance. We are pleased to see our programs responding to this need and rising to the occasion. We will get through this together – stronger, more resilient, and thriving.

Paul H. Dworkin, MD is executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and founding director of Help Me Grow National Center. Dr. Dworkin is also a professor of pediatrics at UConn School of Medicine.  Learn more »

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