“It is designed around the pediatric health care visit to enhance language and literacy in at-risk children through the promotion of positive parenting.”
Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital formed the Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI) in 2016. The mission of the Initiative is to address the Flint community’s population-wide crisis and help all Flint children grow up healthy and strong.
One of the programs offered through PPHI, Video Interaction Project (VIP), is specifically for infants and toddlers. “It is designed around the pediatric health care visit to enhance language and literacy in at-risk children through the promotion of positive parenting,” says Dr. Lauren O’Connell, Medical Director. It started in Flint in 2017 and has been very successful.
“The goal of the program is to build parenting skills and promote self-efficacy,” the doctor reports. The program is currently serving over 300 families.
According to Dr. O’Connell, the evidence-based parenting program uses toys, books and resources to help parents utilize pretend play, shared reading and daily routines as opportunities for strengthening early development and literacy in their children.
The VIP program takes place in the pediatrician’s office, she explains, adding that the families go to the VIP room and meet with a coach for about 25 minutes. The coach observes the parent/caregiver and the child as they interact and makes a video of the interaction. “The idea is to identify what is going well,” says the doctor. The parents are given a pamphlet, a photo, toy and the video at each VIP visit. The VIP coaches are people from the community. They have to love children and have a high school degree,” she says, “and they get a lot of training.”
Dr. O’Connell says a child learns a ton of things in their first three years. “We want to fill their brain with good experiences,” she says, “and what a baby needs the most is a warm and loving relationship with their parent or caregiver.” And, vigorous studies have shown the VIP program helps improve child behavior, increases school readiness, improves parent/child relationships and decreases parental depression.
“I love VIP as a mother and as a public health professional,” Dr. O’Connell shares. “I sincerely wish I had been able to participate when my children were babies. It is a joy to lead a team that seeks to build relationships with caregivers while empowering each parent to build skills and enjoy their child.”
Lauren O’Connell attended University of Michigan Medical School BS and completed pediatric residency at Northwestern Medical in Chicago, Il. She returned to UM for her developmental behavioral pediatrics fellowship. She currently is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan State University and works in Flint as a developmental behavioral pediatrician caring for children with autism, ADHD, and other behavioral disorders. She was a founding member of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, through which she directs several research projects dedicated to assessing and promoting effective parenting behaviors within the medical home.