Experiences of abuse, neglect, poverty, or living in violent neighborhoods can have a devastating impact on children’s health and lives.
Philadelphia pediatricians, policy makers and public health officials have launched a task force to examine how these effects could be mitigated. They are using the “ACE Study,” or adverse childhood experiences study, as the basis for their work. The group is called the Philadelphia ACE task force.
A growing body of research has linked adverse childhood experiences to myriad later health problems including depression, obesity, heart disease, or diabetes. The Philadelphia task force is focusing on the role that pediatricians could play in both identifying and helping children who experience adversity.
They will work together to develop screening tools to identify children who are struggling, and find ways to offer help and resources.
Understanding how a child experiences life means understanding their family system, says Roy Wade, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar.
“A child is a window into the family, and if you can involve the entire family that’s ultimately a good way to influence behavior of parents, and not just the children,” Wade says.
Wade says pediatricians have a natural point of connection with families during well-child visits, and that could be used to discuss important issues beyond vaccines and growth charts.
Dr. Lee Pachter, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital, is one of the leaders of the task force. Going forward, he said, pediatricians should be able to identify at-risk children, and to offer resources for struggling families.
“I would like to see us be able to help families and parents who have behavioral health problems, by having clinicians who can help the parents as well,” said Pachter. “So my hope is to have ‘one stop shopping’ where we may be able to screen and then address some of these concerns.”
The task force has a yearlong work plan to map out next steps and to develop materials.