Since the fall of 2019, I have been a student researcher on the Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP) Bass Connections team, a multidisciplinary policy-focused working group composed of health professionals, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students that works to support the North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan initiated by Governor Roy Cooper.
This plan outlines a cohesive vision, sets benchmarks for impact by the year 2025, and establishes shared stakeholder accountability to achieve statewide goals for young children from birth through age eight. The goals are divided into three main categories that work toward ensuring that young children are healthy, safe and nurtured, and learning and ready to succeed.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, our team focused on the implementation of social-emotional health (SEH) screening for young children in North Carolina. SEH has been shown to predict future outcomes such as academic attainment, employment status, criminal activity, substance use and mental health. Additionally, current healthcare models are moving toward a more holistic approach to incorporate SEH needs. Now we are working on a roadmap to provide assistance for children and families who are experiencing food insecurity.
Unfortunately, the problem of childhood food insecurity has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, 14% of childhood homes were food insecure. Currently, that number has increased to about 30%. In North Carolina, this number has risen from one in five children to one in four.
As a part of this meaningful policy work on behalf of NC children and families, I have had the opportunity to present on recent literature, conduct and analyze stakeholder interviews, participate in discussions with consulting experts and guest contributors, and speak at both national and international meetings and conferences. I represented our Duke ECAP team at the 2019 NC Early Childhood Foundation Workgroup Meeting, the 2020 Academic Pediatric Association Region IV Conference, the 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics Virtual Conference and the 2021 Campus Food Insecurity Symposium. Along with my research partner, I was even awarded the APA Pediatric Research Award - Student Category for our team’s work and presentation.
Through my participation, I have developed both leadership and project management skills, while also deepening my commitment to pursuing policies that better support the healthy development of children and their families. Additionally, the faculty members and graduate students on the ECAP team have become valuable mentors. My passion and commitment to this team extends far beyond our team meetings and the Duke University academic year. My involvement with Bass Connections has inspired me to pursue my interests in child and family policy, health policy and educational policy alongside an MD degree.
One of my mentors, Duke pediatrician Dr. Eliana Perrin, once described how “pediatricians are the ultimate witnesses to failed social policies.” My participation on the ECAP team has inspired me to continue conducting research into programs and policies that seek to improve cross-sector care coordination and disparities in service utilization for children and families. Being a member of this team has taught me how to more efficiently address the intersection of medical needs, social needs, educational needs, family health and health equity. After Duke I plan to continue to advocate, both on behalf of individual patients and their families and at the state and national level, for an integrated approach to the physical, psychological, social and educational influences on children’s health.