Voices from the Field: HealthySteps COVID-19 Response and Recovery

HealthySteps families comprise many of the populations hardest hit by COVID-19 and as a result, HealthySteps Specialists are stepping up to address essential needs for young children and their families nationwide.

Our Network Fills Gaps to Meet Critical Needs

The COVID-19 pandemic is a time of great stress for everyone, especially parents. HealthySteps sites have mobilized to adjust their clinic flow or introduce telehealth into their practice, and/or are connecting with families remotely via phone, text, and even What’s App to ensure families have access to the myriad important services provided by the pediatric primary care team.

While there are reports of layoffs in outpatient care and pediatric practices closing their doors, HealthySteps sites are charging on—ensuring that the pediatric primary care team doesn’t miss opportunities to address ongoing or new family needs, like sudden job loss and food insecurity.

“As a certified lactation consultant, I have been able to provide support to breastfeeding moms and babies in the clinic and over the phone. One mom expressed how grateful she feels to be able to breastfeed her baby and not have to worry about finding formula in the midst of COVID-19.” – HS Specialist in rural Arizona

“While there are limitations to virtual visits, it is nice to see families, particularly the children, in their natural environment,” reported a HS Specialist in Boston, MA. “With the phone calls, I’ve noticed that families are genuinely happy to have us reach out. Several times, parents have brought up issues, such as food resources, questions about behavior that could be related to the quarantine, access to non-COVID-19 related health care, etc. that they didn’t realize they could bring up with the health center.”

“Yesterday I saw a 2-month-old beautiful baby girl. Mom’s stress was visible from the moment she walked into the room. She had successfully breastfed her older child two years prior, but she is making no milk. Mom believes it’s all the stress. When I asked about home and the challenges of the pandemic, mom bravely told me that they don’t have enough money for food. She and her husband are starving. The formula they have will run out in the next two days. She worries about how much food her 2-year-old is getting. They are all hungry. The relief was palpable when we were able to get formula, diapers, and wipes into her hands to take home with her that day. She left my office and went directly to the food bank I found close to her home. She was able to feed her baby. And hopefully able to feed herself.” – HS Physician Champion, Bronx, NY

Parents and Providers Trust Us

HealthySteps sites across the country continue to be a trusted home base for families and HS Specialists remain valuable partners to their pediatric primary care colleagues.

“The providers in the clinic have been very appreciative that I am available via telehealth as they are encountering many very anxious families, especially those with newborns who delivered during this time of crisis and uncertainty. Families are absolutely benefitting from having this support, even from afar, and being able to still see my face and interact with me even though I am not physically in the room.“ – HS Specialist, Denver, CO

HealthySteps families represent many of the populations hardest hit by this pandemic, which is disproportionately harming those already most burdened by poverty, inequity, and systemic racism. For two families in rural Arizona just outside Navajo Nation, HealthySteps is a lifeline.

“It’s amazing what [my HS Specialist] does. If I didn’t have her [HS Specialist] in my corner then I definitely don’t think that I would be where I am today with these kids,” Candance Sharp, a single parent raising three kids under 4, including Xavier, her 3-year-old who has chronic lung disease, sleep apnea and asthma shared with KJZZ.

We are Poised to Address the Long-Term Effects

Young children, while seemingly unaware of the details of this crisis, are nonetheless being impacted in lasting ways that we won’t know for years, even decades to come. National Director Dr. Rahil Briggs shared this concern with major national news outlets The New York Times and Fox News, and in Psychology Today.

Our HS Specialists report they are making even more adult mental health referrals:

“I make mental health referrals on a daily basis. I talk parents through behavioral concerns that arise - which are often due to self-isolation,” – HS Specialist, Cooperstown, NY

Maternal depression concerns are rising, one site in Show Low, AZ reported:

"Our HS Specialists are also working remotely and following up with a phone call to mothers with elevated scores on the Edinburgh Screen whom we have referred for services. With many support services canceled or more challenging to access, the support we have been able to provide by phone has been welcomed by mothers.”

Most pressing and dangerous:

“Our community has seen a spike in serious child injury due to child abuse,” reported a HS Specialist in Fort Worth, TX.

Evidence shows that HealthySteps addresses risk factors for child abuse and neglect and our work has become even more urgent as new and increased stressors place young children at higher risk.

We Are Needed Now More Than Ever

HS Specialists will be asked, more than ever, to address families’ social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, housing instability, substance misuse, and interpersonal safety and there will be an extended impact on children’s social-emotional development. In the coming months and years, HS Specialists will support families however they can–ultimately, in-person and back in the pediatric setting–until then the HealthySteps National Office at ZERO TO THREE will continue to support our national network of sites in their response to COVID-19 on the ground.

We are grateful to the 200+ HS Specialists and their colleagues for their relentless work to ensure that families and young children have what they need to foster healthy development, even amid a global crisis.


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