Stanford pediatricians launch Office of Child Health Equity to improve childcare support and health access

A team within Stanford Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, led by Executive Director Lisa Chamberlain, launched the Office of Child Health Equity in early October. The Agency aims to eliminate children’s health disparities so that “all children reach their full potential,” according to its mission statement.

The work of the Office of Child Health Equity is not new. The Office builds on a former pediatric advocacy program that was housed in the general pediatrics division and focused on community engagement and education. Expanding the program to an official office now means members of the entire pediatrics department can support the team’s initiative.

“The reason we’ve decided to re-invest resources into this is because it’s getting worse for children and families,” Chamberlain said. “COVID-19 continues to be a difficult time for families due to the disruption of learning, lost parents and loved ones, and other reasons that have disparate impacts on lower-income families and communities of color.”

Members of the new office will approach their mission through a three-pronged approach: policy advocacy, equity analytics, and ongoing community engagement and education efforts.

The Agency’s policy pillar aims to transform the knowledge of physicians and other experts in child health into better health policy by bringing research results to key decision-makers, including elected leaders. The Pillar aims to act as a unified voice within the pediatric department and its subspecialties to push for change in California’s laws and regulations related to children’s health.

Chamberlain said she is also concerned about how the aging population of the United States may deprive children of resources. The number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to reach 80 million by 2040 — double the number in 2000, according to The Urban Institute. Chamberlain described this demographic challenge as a “silver tsunami.”

“As we get older, we become much more expensive and consume more and more of the resources. We are concerned about a time when we need to protect resources,” Chamberlain said, adding that the team hopes children’s health remains a national priority.

The stock office also houses an analytics team, which connects researchers with community partners to conduct community-based participatory research.

According to associate professor of pediatrics Anisha Patel, the Bureau’s research approach differs from traditional research in two important ways. Patel said that given their unique understanding of the local population, community partners can interpret research findings in the context of lived experiences within low-income and colored communities. Patel added that these partnerships ensure that the research actually makes a difference within the community.

“As academics, we usually publish in peer-reviewed journals that may be behind a paywall, and the community members may not have access to this,” Patel said. By working with community partners, the team hopes that information and research results reach the right stakeholders.

According to Patel, the team is currently working on several projects related to food insecurity in the San Joaquin Valley. Through the initiative, local partners create educational materials such as Powerpoint presentations with research findings and data that parents can bring to their local school districts.

In addition to research, the community engagement and education teams have continued the long-term work on coalition building and service, according to senior research scientist in pediatrics Janine Bruce. Bruce said the team prioritizes in terms of the concerns and needs of the community.

“We serve as a convener,” Bruce said. “We bring people together, but in the end we let the community lead.”

Another major goal of the Bureau is to improve knowledge about children’s health equity among Stanford residents, fellows and educators. This includes creating scholarship communities for educators in various disciplines to participate in community engagement and advocacy.

Chamberlain said she is most excited about the upcoming January launch of a series of seminars titled “Rethinking Child Equity”. The team has reached out to national leaders to discuss children’s health through the lens of topics like climate change, Chamberlain said.

“We want to hear from these leaders and let these discussions shape the structure of our priorities,” Chamberlain said.

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