I was inspired to work in Washington, DC for better health policies for children and families as a result of my work as a practicing pediatrician in Cleveland, Ohio and later Boston, Massachusetts. As an urban-based pediatrician, I was continually frustrated by factors, beyond my clinical practice walls, which had far greater impact on my patients’ well-being than anything I could treat in the short time I had with a child and his or her family in the office. I didn’t have a prescription to treat poverty, lack of access to social services, inadequate early care and education, food insecurity, unsafe environments, racism, and inadequate housing. These are all things we can address at a policy and social service level that have a tremendous impact on health and development outcomes for children and families.
These days, as the new Chief Medical Officer for ACF, I am far less frustrated. That’s because, perhaps for the first time in my career, I believe I have at my disposal the right “prescriptions” for healthy families. And in the new Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO) I have the means to connect the right prescriptions to the desired healthy outcomes. Armed with “prescriptions” for Head Start, Child Care, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and more, we can design healthier outcomes for vulnerable children and families. The OCMO will focus on those social factors that impact the health outcomes of vulnerable children and families and work to treat these social determinants of health long before the need for a family’s visit to the doctor’s office or an emergency room. I invite interested stakeholders to join me in this effort.