By Mark Nupen, MD
As a retired pediatrician but lifelong child advocate, I had the privilege of recently attending the bipartisan “Prenatal to Three Policy Forum” hosted by Elders for Infants and Representatives Deb Kiel and Dave Pinto.
These quarterly forums, which have been gaining traction among policy makers and pediatric advocates, are designed to help attendees “learn about what key organizations and coalitions are working on to improve state policy for early childhood, from prenatal through age 3.”
I highly recommend pediatricians attend, if possible, because prevention works best when it’s done early.
Literacy, for example, is an extremely important social determinant of health. Although language development is critical in the first three years, half of all new mothers receiving Medicaid do not have books in their house. Research suggests as many as 70 percent of prison inmates are mostly illiterate. Low literacy is also a key factor in high school dropouts and teen pregnancies.
If I were still in practice, parental literacy would be one of my new “vital signs.”
In my opinion, prenatal to age 3 is the perfect span of time for focused interventions. It is the prime age for child abuse and family dysfunction, which is why it is the prime age for building parenting skills and literacy.
During the forum, legislators spoke about the importance of keeping in contact with your own representatives and senators because it is likely they have little knowledge about these issues and need your help.
Following the forum, I connected with Clara Sharp, a doula from North Minneapolis who works with at-risk moms. I also connected with Laura Lacroix-Dalluhn who works with the Minnesota Coalition for Targeted Home Visiting, which includes pregnant moms in prison.
We cannot do this work alone, nor can we rely on a few legislators. We all need to contribute to our legislators’ skills and knowledge.