ERH in Action with Pediatrics Supporting Parents: Parents and Pediatricians Create Early Relational Health Partnership in Durham, North Carolina

By Nurture Connection

Parents, pediatricians, and health advocates are proud of what they’ve created at the Durham Collaborative Network for Early Relational Health, one of five Pediatrics Supporting Parents community partners across the country, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. The initiative focuses on utilizing well-child visits as an opportunity for healthcare professionals and parents to work together to support a child’s social and emotional well-being and promote Early Relational Health (ERH) for young children.

The North Carolina program is based at Duke Children’s Primary Care North Durham clinic, the largest pediatric care facility in the area that serves predominantly Black and Brown families. The members of the network understand that to engage parents around ERH, they need leadership from peers to enhance adult capabilities and truly serve the needs of the very young children in the community.

To help meet that goal, the clinic has a parent advisory committee comprised of parent champions with lived experience, pregnant people, and fathers.

As members of the collaborative recount in this listening session, it’s not enough to hand out a pamphlet or hang a flier on the clinic wall; parents need to engage with their peers in a safe space to understand the importance of ERH for their infants’ and toddlers’ healthy development and lifelong health and well-being. They also need to access tools and resources to educate themselves and develop positive parenting skills. And they need to build relationships with people they trust and receive information that is accessible, culturally affirming, and appropriate. 

It’s not an easy or fast process, and it can’t be rushed, says pediatrician Elizabeth Erickson, MD. It takes time to develop trust and appreciate what expertise and experience each individual brings to the table. The focus should be on building relationships and creating a team, versus outcomes and deliverables, says Dr. Erickson. Know your audience, eliminate walls, choose words with care, power share, and, above all, says the collaborative’s program director, Danielle Little, remember that you’re all on the same team.

There is only so much a clinician can do in a 15-minute well-child visit. Dr. Erickson says it’s important for clinicians to follow the guidance of parent leaders and ask parents questions like: “What do you need?” instead of providing something prepackaged and saying: “Here’s what we’ve created for you. Don’t you like it?”

The team sings the praises of parent advocate Zulma Galdamez, a Latina mother of four. She spreads the word about the importance of ERH in an accessible language that her peers understand (in plain English or Spanish). She also shares resources with families that would allow them to build their parenting capacities to practice ERH.

Parent advisory team co-leader Tiffany Solomon has three children, including a child with autism who is legally blind and partially deaf. She describes her own experience navigating the health system as a nightmare. She wants to help create a more inclusive, family-friendly environment that enables parents to “absorb and radiate” what they need on their path to positive parenting.

Find more on Pediatrics Supporting Parents on the Nurture Connect blog here.

This blog is part of Nurture Connection’s “ERH in Action” series of listening and learning sessions. Our network is full of meaningful examples of people and organizations promoting ERH in their daily lives and work. Our new “ERH in Action” series highlights and uplifts stories from various fields to share learnings, challenges, and bright spots in the movement.