Child care experts talk need for policy change at roundtable discussion

HUNTINGTON — With hopes of forging a path toward meaningful changes to policy that affects the well-being of West Virginia’s children, two groups brought together health care and child welfare experts Friday at the Marshall University School of Medicine within Cabell Huntington Hospital.

“This is our third year,” said Kelli Caseman, with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, one of the groups that organized Friday’s roundtable. “Each year I learn something really insightful and meaningful, but it was discussed that we really need a groundswelling of support to really push change, and we don’t have that yet. It’s three years and we still haven’t found that galvanizing support to push policy change because it’s such a hard topic.”

Partnering with Caseman’s group for Friday’s event was the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Experts on the panel included pediatricians, neonatologists, psychologists, social workers and representatives from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Topics included the opioid epidemic, adverse childhood effects (ACEs), foster care and unmet health care needs of children.

They tackled many questions regarding children’s well-being, and information from Friday’s discussion will be compiled in a report that will be delivered to the state Legislature prior to its session next year.

“How do we improve parent engagement knowing that we believe the research that is there showing adverse childhood effects lead people down the path to substance use disorder?” Caseman said. “We aren’t just talking about kids who may be experiencing adverse childhood effects, but they are growing up in a home where everybody has adverse childhood experiences. If you know trauma is playing a big role, how do you treat the family? How do you refer to mental health services when you know there aren’t mental health services in your community?”

Many of the themes Friday included how to better wrap services around children and their families, treating them as a whole, rather than in pieces. For example, one question asked of the panel was how food insecurity ties into both the physical and mental health of a child, and how the health care professionals can better address nutrition.

“In my medical education, I didn’t really appreciate that food is medicine,” said Dr. Lisa Costello, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics of West Virginia University School of Medicine. “We need to emphasize that. Just like we would pay for a drug, we need to make sure we are paying for healthy food options and access.”

Dr. Marianna Linz, chairwoman of the Marshall Department of Psychology, said medical professionals need to better understand the realities their patients face, such as only being able to afford to shop at a store that doesn’t carry fresh fruits and vegetables or only being able to afford to grocery shop once or twice a month.

There was also a discussion on the foster care system, including how to better meet those children’s health care needs and how to recruit more foster families.

Jeremiah Samples, deputy director of DHHR, said the upcoming switch to a managed care organization to coordinate health care for foster children should help many of the issues families and physicians face with health care.

“We have to stay vigilant,” he said. “We have to hear from physicians and foster families about how this works.”

In regards to recruiting more foster families, Dr. Jim Lewis, with the Marshall School of Medicine, said more training of families is needed so they are prepared to deal with the issues children will bring into their home.