Schools were closed and online learning was in full swing last March when a teenager and her mom arrived at Fair Haven Community Health Care in New Haven. The girl had been experiencing chest pains and her worried mother thought she should go to the emergency room, recalled Amanda E. DeCew, a Fair Haven clinic director and pediatric nurse. The girl “was spending her entire day inside and had been inside for like two weeks,” DeCew said. “But the more we got into her symptoms, the more I really felt like this was anxiety and nothing that she needed to go the emergency room for.”
But DeCew also knew that some kind of medical intervention was needed. “I’m going to write a park prescription for you,” she told the girl.
It’s a summer afternoon and parents with their young children have gathered to hear what a nutritionist with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has to offer. They watch with intrigue as Mary Paige demonstrates how to make yogurt dots from frozen Greek yogurt and French fries from roasted parsnips and carrots. After a 10-minute demo in the WIC office at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Primary Care Center, Stephany Uriostegui of West Haven is sold. She can’t wait to try the recipes at home for her 10-month-old son and 5- and 7-year-old daughters. “I always buy the [yogurt dots] from Walmart,” she said.
Nearly 40 percent of all black kindergartners are overweight or obese, and nearly 40 percent of all Hispanic kindergartners in Connecticut are, too. A new policy brief by the Child Health and Development Institute says the best way to fight numbers like these is to “require action in a child’s earliest years — from birth to 2.” The numbers also indicate that 25 percent of all white kindergartners are overweight or obese also. “The numbers are staggering, and the health implications are so big,” said Judith Meyers, president and CEO of the Farmington-based CHDI, whose brief is based, in part, on research by UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. “Connecticut’s rates [of childhood obesity] are among the highest in the country,” she said.
Tens of thousands of Connecticut infants and toddlers are at risk for social and emotional problems, and the professionals who interact with them most need mental health training in order to help them, according to a report released this week. Children who live in poverty, are homeless or have suffered abuse or neglect are among those most likely to experience trauma at a young age, according to the report by the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI) of Connecticut, and the key to helping them is providing the right support. “There is a tremendous opportunity to improve children’s lives by promoting a child’s secure attachment with a caregiver from the beginning,” said Judith Meyers, a psychologist and president and CEO of CHDI. “Professionals who care for young children are in the unique position to help families develop nurturing relationships.”
The nonprofit institute suggests that all doctors, teachers, early care providers and others who work with infants and toddlers in Connecticut be trained in infant mental health. Helping children process and cope with trauma early is essential to their future success, said Melissa Mendez, co-lead author of the report and associate director of early childhood at the Wheeler Clinic in Plainville.
Pediatricians can be a vital asset to new mothers when it comes to identifying mental health problems and connecting them to treatment, according to a new report. As many as one in five new mothers experience mental health challenges that impact their ability to care for their children, according to a report released this week by the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI) of Connecticut. More of these instances would be diagnosed and treated if more pediatricians screened mothers at well-baby visits, the report states. Doing so represents a culture shift among pediatricians, said Lisa Honigfeld, CHDI vice president of health initiatives. “It’s a new way to look at child health services,” she said, but a worthwhile one.
The state needs to enlist pediatricians in screening children for mental health problems, expand school-based counseling services and create regional “care management entities” to help families access treatment, a draft report by the Department of Children and Families proposes. The DCF plan – ordered by state lawmakers in the wake of the Newtown school shootings – concludes that “too many families with children in need of immediate behavioral health services continue to struggle with a fragmented system that is difficult to understand and navigate and lacking in basic capacity across the continuum of services.”
But it stops short of calling for more inpatient and outpatient treatment options, saying more study is needed to identify gaps in care and to see if existing resources can be redeployed. A key recommendation in the plan is that state agencies “pool” existing resources for children’s mental health – an estimated $300 million to $400 million – and re-direct those dollars in new ways. The report does not include data on the usage of existing mental health services or unmet needs. Instead, it calls for that data to be collected, and for a “high level task force” to be convened to lead a multi-year study and redesign of spending on mental health. The plan, which will be refined in the coming weeks based on public input, is the latest in a series of efforts over the last three decades to fix the state’s disjointed system of mental health care for children.
Forty-five percent of Connecticut adults in a survey released Wednesday reported that they have been diagnosed with a chronic disease such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, heart disease or cancer. That rate was “very high,” said Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. She said she was also struck that 28 percent of adults aged 18 to 44 reported in the new Connecticut Health Care Survey that they have one of those serious illnesses. “With so many people reporting chronic illnesses and their complications, we have to have better access to care,’’ she said. Six health foundations released the results of a telephone survey of 5,447 adults conducted between June 2012 and February 2013.
Connecticut has made significant gains to create a system that better identifies and treats children suffering from traumatic stress in the year since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But ensuring children have equal access to mental health services regardless of where they live or their insurance status remains elusive. “The impact of trauma on children is a public health issue. It’s happening all over the state and it’s not just high-profile events such as Sandy Hook,” said Robert Franks, vice president of the Child Health and Development Institute, noting that 25,000 children per year experience significant traumatic events. “Children are exposed to all sorts of trauma in their homes and communities every day.
With reports showing that the majority of female juveniles who have committed crimes in Connecticut have experienced traumatic events, mental health advocates are pushing for early intervention to identify and treat trauma. Dr. Robert Franks, vice president of the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut and director of the Connecticut Center for Effective Practice, said that evidence shows that experiencing trauma can lead to involvement in the criminal system. “There is a very clear link between trauma and criminal activities,” he said. He said trauma can affect adolescents’ behavior in several ways: the child may re-experience the event, through memory or dreams; may become more anxious or paranoid; may shut down emotions; or may experience physical problems. He said that trauma can be identified by screening and interviews. Franks said trauma has received increased attention in the state since the December shootings in Newtown.
Selenia Velez remembers the near-daily phone calls from the pre-school, alerting her that her 2-year-old son had acted out aggressively and needed to be picked up immediately. The calls went on for months, as Velez, 27, of Hartford, and her husband bounced between the pre-school and their son’s pediatrician, who recommended that they take him to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. But the psychiatrist was booked and held them at bay, as Velez watched her son’s behavior deteriorate. “We just felt hopeless,” the mother of four recalls of her oldest son, now 7. “It was one of the most heartbreaking things you can go through as a mother.