A team within Stanford Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, led by executive director Lisa Chamberlain, launched the Office of Child Health Equity in early October. The Office aims to eliminate children’s health disparities so “all children reach their full potential,” according to its mission statement.
The work of the Office of Child Health Equity is not new. The Office builds on a former pediatric advocacy program that was housed within the general pediatrics division and focused on community engagement and education. The expansion of the program to an official office now means that members across the entire pediatrics department can support the team’s initiative.
“The reason we decided to recommit and reinvest resources into this is that things for kids and families continue to get worse,” Chamberlain said. “COVID-19 continues to be a difficult time for families because of the disruption of learning, lost parents and loved ones and other reasons that disparately impact lower-income families and communities of color.”
Members of the new office will approach their mission through a three-pronged approach: policy advocacy, equity analytics and continued efforts related to community engagement and education.
The Office’s policy pillar looks to translate the knowledge of physicians and other experts on children’s health into better health policy by bringing research findings to key decision makers, including elected leaders. The pillar aims to act as a unified voice across the pediatric department and its sub-specialties to push for change in California laws and regulations related to child health.
Chamberlain said that she is also concerned about how the United States’ aging population may take resources away from children. The number of Americans 65 and older is predicted to reach 80 million around 2040 — double the amount in 2000, according to The Urban Institute. Chamberlain described this demographic challenge as a “silver tsunami.”
“As we get older, we get much more expensive and consume more and more of the resources. We’re concerned about heading to a period of time where we’ll have to protect resources,” Chamberlain said, adding that the team hopes to ensure children’s health remains a national priority.
The equity office also houses an analytics team, which connects researchers with community partners to conduct community-based participatory research.
The Office’s research approach differs from traditional research in two significant ways, according to associate professor of pediatrics Anisha Patel. Patel said that given their unique proximity understanding of the local population, community partners can interpret research findings in the context of lived experiences within low-income communities and communities of color. Patel added that these partnerships ensure that the research actually makes a difference within the community.
“As an academic, we’re typically publishing in peer-reviewed journals that may sit behind a paywall, and the community members may not be able to access these,” Patel said. By collaborating with community partners, the team hopes that information and research findings will reach the right stakeholders.
The team is currently working on several projects related to food insecurity in the San Joaquin Valley, according to Patel. Through the initiative, local partners are creating educational materials like Powerpoint presentations that include research findings and data that parents can bring to their local school districts.
Beyond research, the community engagement and education teams have continued long-term work in coalition building and service, according to senior research scholar in pediatrics Janine Bruce. Bruce said that the team frames its priorities in terms of the concerns and needs of the community.
“We serve as a convener,” Bruce said. “We bring people together, but ultimately we let the community lead.”
Another important goal of the Office is to improve knowledge of children’s health equity among Stanford residents, fellows and faculty. This includes the creation of scholarship communities for faculty across different disciplines to participate in community engagement and advocacy.
Chamberlain said that she is most excited about the forthcoming January launch of a seminar series titled “Rethinking Child Equity.” The team has reached out to national leaders to discuss children’s health through the lens of topics such as climate change, according to Chamberlain.
“We want to hear from these leaders and let these discussions push the structure of our priorities,” Chamberlain said.