A HealthySteps Program Begins at Bassett to Support Early Childhood Development

May 9, 2017

In pediatricians’ offices here in central New York and around the country, health providers see children who are impacted by a difficult home environment. Consider the following scenario: During a child’s pediatric visit it may come up that she has been having difficulty in school, fighting with classmates during recess and causing disruptions in class. She had been taken out of the home after witnessing a physical fight between her parents. Her father, who was drunk, had thrown her mother, who is pregnant, up against a wall. A restraining order was placed against him and the child has not seen her father for a period of time.

The health implications associated with this kind of scenario is the reason why Bassett Medical Center applied for and received a state grant to begin a HealthySteps program. Through the HealthySteps program, a trained HealthySteps specialist will work closely with expectant and new parents to identify risks to normal growth and development in their children, ideally even before their child is born, and provide resources and guidance. The risks, some of which are mentioned in the example above, are adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as parental depression, domestic violence and substance abuse—which can lead to health and social problems even into adulthood.

“The HealthySteps program has the potential for changing lives of kids who are at risk because of high ACE scores, which are reflected as poor health outcomes in later life,” says Chris Kjolhede, MD, MPH, pediatrician and medical director of Bassett’s HealthySteps program. “Our specialist will work with the team to identify children at risk who potentially may benefit from extra guidance.”

“I will see parents before the baby is born and then follow after the baby is born and for the first five years,” says Susan Weil, licensed clinical social worker and Bassett’s HealthySteps specialist. “During pregnancy and in the months right after birth, parents are more motivated and open to looking at new ways of living and new ways of bringing up their baby. We can have a big impact on parents at this time and have a really positive impact on their children’s lives.”  The HealthySteps specialist will work closely with clinicians in Women’s Health and Pediatrics in making assessments and recommendations.

Interventions can range from guidance in parenting, providing knowledge about what to expect in normal child development, referrals to behavioral or developmental specialists and other community resources and plain old-fashioned listening. Parents often appreciate and benefit greatly from having a sympathetic listener who can help them cope with their emotions about parenting.

“Our HealthySteps specialist will provide guidance, referrals, care coordination and even home visits for families who need them,” says Kjolhede.

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