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T. Berry Brazelton, MD

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Speaking Up for Children

Posted: 08/08/2012 2:25 pm

I began practicing pediatrics more than 60 years ago. Since then, health care has taken enormous strides, including this summer's Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. This landmark ruling comes after decades of progress in how we care for our children in this country.

We know so much more now than back when I started: Science has shown that deprivation in the womb has lifelong negative effects on health. So does severe adversity during early childhood. We know now that access to quality health care -- at the beginning of life and during pregnancy -- can help prevent both. Investing in prevention can help transform our healthcare system by keeping people healthy and reducing health care costs. A healthier workforce and a sustainable healthcare system mean a stronger nation.

But we can and must do more to act on what we know. There's more to do if we are to ensure that all children grow up to become adults who can cope with adversity, strengthen their communities, engage as active participants in civic life, steward our fragile planet's limited resources and nurture the next generation to be prepared to do the same.

One place to start is preventive health care, which can do more to strengthen our nation when linked with education. In addition to good health, our workforce needs to be highly educated, and the two go hand in hand. Nearly 50 years ago, I collaborated with Head Start's founding fathers, educator Ed Zigler and pediatrician Julius Richmond, to help build a comprehensive child health, early education and family support program for children living in poverty. Since then, science has shown that children are more likely to enter college, be healthier in adulthood, join a globally competitive workforce and serve as contributive members of society if they get a strong education -- starting in their earliest years.

Today, thanks to Obama administration investments, more children than ever are participating in Head Start, fulfilling the bipartisan vision backed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Econometric studies have shown that such investments pay off -- up to $17 per $1 spent. Yet despite all we now know, too many Head Start-eligible children still aren't funded for a chance to participate in this critical program. One of the Obama administration's great accomplishments has been to galvanize public will to open Head Start doors to 61,000 additional children, but we need to fund twice as many Head Start slots for babies and young children, and we need to start right now.

The recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act leaves many protections for children and families intact, at least for now. Thanks to this law, millions of children have already received preventive well-child routine care; more than 3 million young adults have received coverage through their parents' health insurance plans and children with pre-existing conditions, including asthma, diabetes and others, have been guaranteed rather than denied coverage when their parents have had to switch insurance plans due to job changes or out-of-state moves. The broader coverage afforded by this bill will make our nation healthier, and stronger.

But threats to our children's health are afoot on Capitol Hill. Fall deadlines for funding the federal government loom. Nearly every proposal before Congress would make dramatic cuts to investments in preventive and primary health care for children, investments that pay off and save taxpayers' money. If Congress chooses cuts and avoids sequestration -- the automatic cuts set by the Budget Control Act of last summer -- Medicaid is at risk. If Congress doesn't, then the automatic ones would also slash federally-funded children's health programs and educational ones. Either way, without the funding for relatively inexpensive medication and outpatient treatment, we will spend much, much more for children who end up in very costly emergency rooms and intensive care units unnecessarily. We know how to do better -- for our children's health and our economy, too.

I may be 94 years old, but I'm not done. We health care professionals have a duty to advocate for what we now know children need and to empower their families and federal legislators to do the same. We must go beyond our offices and prescription pads and into the halls of Congress and the pages of publications like this one to speak up for the children we care for who so often are unable to speak for themselves.

T. Berry Brazelton, MD, beloved as "America's pediatrician" has advised Republican and Democratic administrations on children's health. Clinical professor emeritus of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and founder of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children's Hospital, Brazelton is internationally renowned for his pioneering research on newborns and his common sense wisdom for parents. The Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) is used in major hospitals around the world, and the bestseller, Touchpoints: Your Child's Behavioral and Emotional Development, has been translated into more than 20 languages.

 
 
 
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