This December, many of us will spend time with family, celebrating religious holidays or the arrival of the new year. It has us thinking about how impactful families are to the health of kids. We'll be sharing our thoughts and ideas with you this month on why it's important to consider the family unit when developing policies and programs aimed at improving child health.
Here are three ideas about how we can consider the family unit in supporting child health:
What if we link medical/social records through a family identifier?
In our global society, standard sets of identification numbers are how we collectively work to keep ourselves safe, track commerce, study human experience and behaviors, and delegate resources. In regards to health care, children are assigned a Medical Record Number once they are born, and often receive a Social Security Number and a health insurance identification number within the first few months. Over the course of their lifetime, they will receive hundreds, if not thousands of identifier numbers to track their interaction with the world around them. And the safe bet is that the vast majority of these identifiers will not be linked to a family or household group.
What if we began to link children’s health identifiers to their family unit, whether biological, adoptive, or fostering? What if the data we collect on an individual child’s experience also allowed us to raise our level of perspective to the family unit, to anticipate needs, measure impact and assess patterns? What might health organizations do differently in how they design programs or deploy resources if they served a family, as well as the individuals within that family?
What if we intentionally incorporate the experiences of a child’s parent/guardian and family as a standard of care when caring for kids?
Parent health affects children’s health. Parents who have experienced trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), or who have ongoing mental health challenges may struggle to manage the natural stressors of raising a child. Not attending to parents’ health needs can contribute to a cyclical pattern of instability, neglect or abuse in a family. While pediatric health systems do not typically serve adults, partnering with adult serving systems or developing family-centric models of care is in the best interest of their child patients. What if screening for parental ACEs or parent depression in pediatric health systems was a standard of care? What if parents could access different types of support services in their communities that were designed to address different intensity of needs? For example, what if a group parenting class that is facilitated by a peer coach was offered through a local church?
What if we simplified family support programs like care coordination and referrals for essential health needs?
Health care organizations, social service agencies and health insurers are making more investments in non-medical services like care coordination and referrals for essential health needs to help people get the support they need to be well. The rationale for these services is that navigating systems related to health and well-being can be remarkably complex and require significant resources and time. Expecting customers to understand and effectively manage the complexities within and across systems is unrealistic at baseline, and even more so when an individual is grappling with illness, trauma, injury or stress. It is in everyone’s best interest to receive the support they need to become well. And yet, there is opportunity to improve how these resources are used to create the greatest benefit for families and communities.
Organizing Coordinated Care
Care coordination services are still generally assigned to the individual, and not the family. When different organizations identify different risk factors for different family members, there can be a virtual wave of un-coordinated care coordination support that descends on a family. Despite the best of intent, the family is left to navigate yet another layer of bureaucracy, and opportunities to build future capacity for self-advocacy are diminished.
Integrating Social Health Care
Many of the experiences that lead to an individual becoming eligible for care coordination services affect the whole family. This is particularly so for services that help families secure essential health needs like safe housing, food, or electricity. While these needs may surface through the course of individual care or counseling, they are directly and immediately applicable to the family unit. Strategies to cope with these experiences are needed by all family members, and different family members may need different strategies.
What if there was collaboration between different service entities to determine which service takes precedence for which opportunities? What if care coordination records were linked across different service agencies, so that a family has one care plan, with one set of goals, and care coordinators from various agencies work from that singular plan? What if the goals of a family care plan were shared with appropriate care team members, as defined by the family?
Focusing on family health is an evidence-based approach to ensuring positive child health outcomes. Genesis Health Consulting has experience in co-developing innovative pediatric health programming and models of care which incorporate the family. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss more!