New collaboration aims to advance early childhood development

Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital announced today that it has partnered with the Bezos Family Foundation and Vroom, the Foundation's early learning program. Their shared purpose involves transforming the environment of six highly trafficked clinic spaces throughout the hospital into places for adults and children to have high-quality interactions that enhance early brain development during the critical years from birth to age five. The project, in collaboration with the Mount Sinai Parenting Center, marks the first time that Vroom's brain-building tools, developed with input from parents, early childhood experts, neuroscientists, and community leaders, have been integrated at this scale within a health care system.

A program of the Bezos Family Foundation, Vroom brings the science of early-childhood learning to communities nationwide through access to 1,000 tips that enable parents and caregivers to transform everyday moments into brain-building ones. A preliminary evaluation of the environmental transformation project, based on survey data of both staff and families, suggests that routine health care moments can be truly transformative without adding extra burden or time to a provider's day.

"In a child's early years, the brain makes more than 1 million neural connections on average each second, which means every moment you spend with a child is an opportunity for brain-building activities," said Carrie Quinn, MD, Executive Director of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. "The health care environment offers a unique opportunity to reach parents during these critical formative years."

Adapted in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team at the Mount Sinai Parenting Center, these brain-building tips encourage staff and families to look at ways they can use every interaction with a child differently. From using a sing-song voice called "Parentese" while changing a diaper to modeling back-and-forth conversations with toddlers, each moment becomes an opportunity to promote healthy brain development. "The hospital clinics are saturated with signage featuring easy-to-read messaging that prompts everyone to think about how they can make these interactions more meaningful, whether that is a parent in a waiting room, a pediatrician doing a consultation, or a security guard, who is the first to greet families and typically the last person to say goodbye," said Aliza Pressman, MD, Co-Founding Director of the Center and Director of Clinical Programming. "Using these tips, interactions become more purposeful, building everything from cognition and language skills to the ability to develop strong interpersonal relationships."

The science we have funded for more than a decade clearly shows that children's early development is dependent on parents and other caring adults in their lives. Our goal is to bring that science into everyday situations by incorporating it into systems parents already access. Health care professionals like those at The Mount Sinai Parenting Center are natural partners because they have the reach and credibility with families and expertise to make brain-building science actionable in the health care setting and in parents' daily lives. We hope people will come here and be inspired and experience what is possible in health care centers nationwide."

Mike Bezos, Vice President and Co-Founder, Bezos Family Foundation

"Mount Sinai has long recognized that the health of any child goes well beyond the immediate concerns that families present with and that we must always be holistic in our approach to facilitate their development and put them on a path of lifelong well-being," said Kenneth L. Davis, MD, President and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System. "Looking ahead, the hope is to motivate other health care systems to promote social-emotional-cognitive development."

The project also includes a critical training component, with video, e-learning, and in-person classroom support delivered to all staff in the designated units to ensure that staff understand and are well equipped to apply the fundamentals of brain development science in their interactions with children and parents. More than 1,000 staff members will participate in this training, from clinical disciplines such as Nursing and Social Work to non-clinical roles like Housekeeping, Patient Transport, and Security. With more than 50,000 pediatric primary care and emergency room visits and more than 8,000 babies born each year at The Mount Sinai Hospital, there is the potential to influence thousands of children and families. "Our intention is to manifest a real culture shift, and not just to train our staff in using this knowledge, but also empower them to think about the ways they can make a positive and lasting contribution to parent-child relationships," said Dr. Pressman.

A preliminary evaluation of the project implementation suggests it is already having an impact in the hospital's labor and delivery and postpartum units. Nine out of 10 staff indicated that the training, signage, and messaging are empowering them in their work, helping them become more patient- and family-centered, and have made the hospital a friendlier place for parents and families. The survey also suggests significant changes in staff behavior: for example, 96 percent of staff said they talked out loud about the things their young patient was seeing, hearing, and doing during an interaction, versus a baseline of 68 percent prelaunch. In addition, 87 percent reported having back-and-forth interactions with the child during routine health care interactions versus 63 percent prelaunch. Among parents and caregivers surveyed, 9 out of 10 who noticed the project signage and materials said they felt that the hospital cared about them and their families.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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