Category Archives: Advocacy and Health Policy

Getting ready for school… 5 years in advance

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by age 3. (iStock photo)

Gigi Chawla, MD

Gigi Chawla, MD

Gigi Chawla, MD

As summer winds down and kids start filling desks and lining hallways at school, it’s a good time to talk about child development. And while this year is the first year that all children will have access to all-day kindergarten, I’m also reminded that not all children arrive to school ready to learn. In fact, getting a healthy start begins long before kids step onto a school bus. As a mom and pediatrician, I know that healthy development and school readiness occur well before children are reading and writing. They occur in those early years, as children are beginning to experience all of their firsts — first smile, first word, first step.

As advocates for children, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota recognizes that health and wellness play a critical role in being ready to learn and that we have a part to play in helping children get a strong start — not only in school but in all areas of life.

We have embarked on an even more deliberate focus on early childhood development, and know that it’s the earliest years in life when the most difference can be made. Consider:

  • Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by age 3.
  • In early childhood, physical, cognitive, emotional and social development occur at a rate that far exceeds any other stage of human life. This has a significant impact on long-term health and wellness.
  • Toxic stress — including poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, exposure to violence and the absence of attentive caregivers — can be devastating to an infant’s developing brain, thus setting children far behind before they’ve had a chance to start.

subscribe_blogGiven the obstacles to healthy child development, we at Children’s decided we needed to venture beyond our walls to address these issues and work with others engaged in protecting the health and well-being of children. We’ve engaged in an effort to build greater awareness about the importance of a child’s development in the earliest years and are working towards identifying collaborative methods to reach more children at this critical time in life.

Every day, I have the privilege to care for children when they are sick and to support ways to make them healthy. And that includes engaging in and elevating the discussion around the value of investments in programs that give kids the start in life that they deserve; please join us.

Read more about the importance of early childhood development and our investment in our children. Read our paper, “Foundation for Life: The Significance of Birth to Three,” to learn more about our efforts.

Gigi Chawla, MD, is senior medical director of primary care for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Washburn Games allow kids to try multiple sports

Boy-with-soccerChildren’s is a proud sponsor of the Washburn Games, a non-competitive sports sampler for kids ages 4-12. Enjoy quality time with your family and help your child give back to the community.

Kids can try out rugby, soccer, lacrosse, cricket, karate, yoga and more to discover their favorite sport — before you sign them up for a season they don’t like! The event raises money for Washburn Center for Children, a Twin Cities nonprofit offering therapeutic care to kids struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses.

All participants receive a T-shirt, medal and goodie bag. Plus, there’s a chance to win a $1,000 educational scholarship.

subscribe_blogWhat: Washburn Games

When: 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27

Where: Bryn Mawr Meadows, 601 Morgan Ave. S., Minneapolis

Cost: $10 registration fee

Registration: Visit to register.

View the flyer for more information.

Join Children’s for Family Fun Day at Peavey Park

The kids are on summer break. It’s warm outside. And now is the perfect time to celebrate! We invite you to join us for fun in the sun at Family Fun Day from 3-7 p.m. July 23 at Peavey Park in Minneapolis. We’re making safety fun and simple for the whole family.

Peavey Park will be filled with fun and friends. You can meet therapy dogs, police horses, learn hands-only CPR and more. The pool and park will be open as usual. When you visit our different activities, you can win a prize and free food (while it lasts) from Café Racer and Mik Mart Ice Cream.

Rain or shine, the event will go on — we hope to see you there!




Here’s where to find us:

Peavey Park, located at 730 E. 22nd St., between Park Avenue South and Chicago Avenue, is the perfect spot to gather all of the neighbors and families in the area (click the map below to get directions).

Working together for healthy kids and healthy communities 

subscribe_blogAt Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, we’ve been working with the Minneapolis Police Department Bike Cops over the past four years to share bike safety information with neighborhood residents throughout Minneapolis. Each year, they celebrate the partnership with a summer event.

This year, we’re living Children’s values by joining together with community partners to extend our reach. After teaming up with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, we wanted to create an event to support and celebrate with our local community in the Phillips neighborhood and remind families of some ways to stay safe and prevent injuries while enjoying the summer.

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Children’s celebrates family advocacy in Washington, D.C.

Children's patient Maisy Martindale (left) and her family visited Washington, D.C., in June to celebrate Family Advocacy Day.

Children’s patient Maisy Martindale (left) and her family visited Washington, D.C., in June to celebrate Family Advocacy Day.

Last month, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota participated in the Children’s Hospital Association’s Family Advocacy Day. The Martindale family joined with families from across the U.S. to advocate for funding and programming to support children’s hospitals and kids with special health care needs.

subscribe_blogBy telling their personal story to our senators and representatives, the Martindales helped put a face on the issues that are important to us. They were wonderful ambassadors for Children’s. Daughter Maisy’s energetic and charming personality won over the hearts of everyone she met.

Batman and Wonder Woman flew by to say a special hello to Maisy and the Martindale family at the Family Advocacy Day celebration dinner. Complete with a band, dancing, face painting, caricatures, games and, of course, ice cream, the event gave the kids a chance to exchange their CHA All-Star trading cards and have some fun before a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill. Maisy even had the chance to perform an original song about Taylor Swift with the band — a true star in the making!

The 2015 FAD trip was successful. Even with all the hard work advocating on Capitol Hill, fun was had by all. We look forward to another opportunity to advocate for children’s health and our children’s hospitals in 2016.

Minnesota House and Senate compromise leads to health care investments

(Photo courtesy of State of Minnesota)

The House and Senate passed — and the governor signed — a bill that most in the health and human services committee probably would give a “B-” grade. (Photo courtesy of State of Minnesota)

Kelly Wolfe

The beginning of every legislative session is a bit like the first day of school. Everyone is excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while and generally people are optimistic that this year will be even better than the last, and 2015 was no different.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

With a $2 billion surplus and no legislators up for re-election, the legislative session was set up to be a successful one. Hopes were high that additional investments in education and health and human services would be made, our roads and bridges would be fixed, and the legislative session would end seamlessly on time.

But just as the new school year feeling is quickly tarnished by a fallout with a friend or a bad grade, the political and philosophical differences that quickly emerged this legislative session put a damper on the optimism. So despite having plenty of money with which to work, dueling priorities over tax cuts, transportation funding, and investments in early childhood education created an improbable solution.

As it relates to Children’s priorities, the massive gulf in approaches to spending on health and human services between the House (a proposed $1 billion cut) and Senate (a $340 million increase) created significant uncertainty for hospitals, nursing homes, mental health providers and many other service agencies. After several weeks of little movement, negotiators agreed to a bill with just one week to go. In keeping with the quirky nature of this year’s legislative session, they crafted a bill that cut $300 million from health and human services but still managed to put significant investments into the health system, including:

  • Payment parity for telemedicine visits, an approach that has tremendous potential for  keeping families closer to home to receive their care
  • An additional $52 million for child protection services that will create a more robust system of accountability to keep children safe
  • Additional medical education funding that will help train more pediatric residents and fellows
  • More than $40 million investment in our mental health system — a long-overdue and much-needed investment for Minnesota children and families
  • Funding for evidence-based home visiting programs that will help children ages 0-2 receive the best possible start in life

subscribe_blogSo, despite the difficulty of reaching a compromise, the House and Senate passed — and the governor signed — a bill that most in the health and human services committee probably would give a “B-” grade; not a bad way to end the year.

For others, though, they’re heading into “summer school” (special session) largely due to the governor’s veto of the education bill. Legislators and the governor will have until July 1 to reach an agreement to avoid a partial state shutdown. The good news is that these are hardworking people who care about our state and have no interest in getting an “F” from the people of Minnesota.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Children’s promotes “brain breaks” for kids in Minnesota schools

subscribe_blogNow there’s a way for kids to fit more fun into their school days. GoNoodle is a program that offers “brain breaks” to kids as part of their class curriculum. Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota sponsors GoNoodle in 336 Twin Cities-area elementary schools.

According to GoNoodle, 84,874 students in Minnesota participated in GoNoodle activities for more than 3.5 million minutes in April.

Gigi Chawla, MD, Children’s senior medical director of primary care, joined WCCO Mid-Morning’s Kylie Bearse and Jason DeRusha to talk about the program and its benefits.

World AIDS Day: Getting to zero

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.

Fatumata, whose name has been changed, is a 15-year-old girl who lived in Eastern Africa all of her life before coming to Minnesota in 2010. She grew up in a refugee camp with her younger brother and sister and her parents. She had to take medicine every day, and sometimes she was sick. But mostly she liked to play with her friends and help her mother with the chores. Fatumata noticed that some of the people in the camp avoided her and her family, and she was not allowed to go to school with the other children. She didn’t know why.

Then one day, Fatumata’s father became ill and eventually passed away. Soon after, her mother became too sick to care for her and her siblings, and her uncle came to tell her that she would be leaving the camp to go and live with his family in the U.S. Fatumata cried because she did not want to leave her mother, but her mother told her that she would be able to grow and be healthy where she was going and that they would see each other again.

Q4_mighty_buttonSo Fatumata and her siblings came to Minnesota. It was cold and, at first, she didn’t understand what anyone was saying. Soon she was able to go to school for the first time, and she learned English, and she continued to take her medications and grow strong and healthy. Today, Fatumata knows why she takes medications. She knows the name of her disease and doesn’t fear her HIV. She has a dedicated medical team at Children’s who provide care and support to her and her family. Fatumata is looking forward to the day when she will be able to go to college and some day, have a healthy family of her own.

Dec. 1, 2014, marks the 26th anniversary of World AIDS Day. It’s an opportunity for us to come together to show support for people living with HIV and AIDS around the world and at home, to remember those who have died from this disease, and to commit to “getting to zero” in the fight against HIV: zero new infections and zero deaths from HIV and AIDS.

HIV today

Around the world, there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV. About 3.3 million are children younger than 15. In addition, about 17.3 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS and millions more have been affected by the epidemic. Every day, almost 7,000 people become infected with HIV and nearly 5,000 people die from AIDS. In 2011, 230,000 of those who lost their lives were children, according to UNICEF.

In the U.S., approximately 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and in Minnesota, just more than 7,500 of our neighbors, family members and friends are living with HIV and AIDS, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

What is Children’s doing in the fight against HIV?

As the largest provider of care to HIV-infected children in Minnesota, we provide medical care to more than 100 children infected with HIV every year. Children come to us from all over Minnesota and the world. Many of the children in our care have been adopted from countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. Many more are refugees and immigrants who may not be able to access treatment in their own countries. In addition to expert medical care, families can access specialized support services funded through the federal Ryan White CARE Act, including education, family case management and mental-health services.

What can you do?

1. Get tested, know your status. HIV testing is recommended as a routine part of medical care. Talk to your provider about testing.

2. Get connected, get support. If you are living with HIV, find out about the programs and services offered in your area to help you stay healthy and support you and your family in living with your disease.

3. Educate yourself about HIV. Learn how to prevent HIV infection and how to keep yourself safe. Can you answer these questions about HIV?

True or false?

1. HIV is a virus and AIDS is a bacteria.

2. HIV infection can be spread by hugging.

3. Some people have HIV and do not know it

4. There is treatment for HIV.

5. People who have HIV can give birth to healthy babies.

Quiz answers

1. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is the disease caused by the HIV virus. AIDS makes it hard for people to fight off other kinds of infections and illnesses and can make people sick.

2. False. You cannot get HIV from hugging or playing with other people with HIV. HIV can only be spread by direct contact with blood and some other body fluids through sex, sharing needles, or breastfeeding.

3. True. About 15 percent of people infected with HIV do not know they are infected with the virus. That’s why getting tested is so important.

4. True. We have great treatments and medications for people living with HIV that enable them to stay healthy and live a long time. We don’t have a cure yet, but scientists are hard at work on it.

5. True. When people living with HIV take their medications and see their doctors regularly, they have more than a 98 percent chance of having a baby born without HIV.

Bullied kids, bullies need our help

Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Kelly Wolfe

October is Bullying Prevention Month: We can learn a lot from a llama.

“It’s not nice to be a bully.” Those were the words my 4-year-old said as we were sitting down for breakfast recently.

Pleasantly surprised that he was aware of this fact, I smiled and said, “That’s right. Who told you about bullies?”

“We read a book at school about the bully goat,” he said. “He was not nice.”

Those few simple words prompted a discussion about what a bully is, why it’s not nice to bully someone and what we should do if we see someone being bullied. And while a little part of me was sad that, at 4 years old, he needed to learn about bullies, a larger part of me was thrilled that education about bullies was happening in his school. The messages we try to teach at home were being reinforced by his teachers and classmates. Everyone was saying the same thing: bullying is not OK.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and this year’s campaign has focused on one basic principle: “The end of bullying begins with me,” a simple premise that if we can all just learn to treat each other with respect, dignity and the same kindness with which we want to be treated, there will be no more bullies.

The PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Education Rights) Center spearheaded the campaign and coordinated efforts on bullying prevention, education and awareness nationwide. Their mission is to “expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents,” including issues around bullying.

Subscribe to MightyWe know that 94 percent of children with disabilities report being victims of bullying, and, according to the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey, more than 70 percent of fifth-graders and 90 percent of 11th-graders report being bullied at school during a 30-day period. The Safe and Supportive Schools Act that was signed into law this year aims to address it.

It’s time that the conversation is elevated and that actions are taken to protect all of our kids. Children who are being bullied cannot learn, and children being bullies often need our help, too.

It’s never too early to start talking to your child about bullying. There are excellent books and resources out there. In addition to PACER, the Minnesota Department of Education has some tips for parents if they suspect their child is a victim of bullying.

“Teacher has some things to say: calling names is not OK.” We all can learn from Llama Llama and the Bully Goat. As parents, adults and role models to our children, we all have a responsibility to model acceptable behavior. And we need to do a better job of standing up for our kids, for all of our kids; because the end of bullying begins with all of us.

Kelly Wolfe is senior policy and advocacy specialist for Advocacy and Child Health Policy at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

On Election Day, stand up for kids

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Kelly Wolfe

Tired of the barrage of campaign literature, TV ads and round-the-clock media coverage about politics? The good news is the end is in sight. Even better news is that on Tuesday you finally get the chance to decide who should represent you in local, state and congressional offices. On Tuesday, you get to make a decision about who best represents you and your priorities. And on Tuesday, Children’s Advocacy and Health Policy department will be watching closely to see how the election will impact kids in our state.

Why does a children’s hospital care about elections? There are many decisions made at the state and federal levels that directly and indirectly impact our patients, organization and children in general. They range from the mundane but critically important – Medicaid, medical-education funding and access to pediatric specialty care – to those issues that impact many other children and families – early childhood development and education opportunities, school nutrition and mental health. The point is that on almost any issue that impacts kids the outcome of Tuesday’s election will matter.

So, what can you do? Learn about the candidates and cast a ballot for elected officials who will best serve and protect kids and go to the polls Tuesday. Your vote makes a difference. In 2006, there were several races that were determined by fewer than 100 votes. In one race, the outcome was determined by 37 votes.

Here is some information to help you make a difference. And if you need more, we always are here to help.

We want to know how your first experience at the polls went. Tweet us @ChildrensMN and @childrenspolicy or post on our Facebook page with a photo of you wearing your “I voted” sticker and let us know what it was like.

Subscribe to MightyContinue to be a voice for children

After Election Day, you can stay engaged by joining Children’s Advocacy Network. We make being informed easy: You’ll get an alert whenever your involvement can make a difference. You’ll also get periodic updates on progress on issues and how your elected officials voted on measures before them.

Kelly Wolfe is senior policy and advocacy specialist for Advocacy and Child Health Policy at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

The first 1,000 days: Brains are built, not born

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, speaks to an audience at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in September.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, speaks to an audience at Children’s – Minneapolis in September.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

By Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

The first 1,000 days, from birth to age 3, have the most pronounced impact on a person’s life-long health and well-being. I had the privilege of discussing strategies to make the most of these first 1,000 days when I visited Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in September.

Children born today face the prospect of growing up less healthy, living shorter lives and being less equipped to compete and lead in a world economy than previous generations. For the first time, we are expecting less of our children and letting them down. We should do better, and the good news is we can if we work together.

The opportunity resides in how we impact the first 1,000 days of every child’s life. We know more now than ever about brain science, which shows that by age 3, 80 percent of our brain is developed. We also know that:

  • Brains are built (not born) over time – prenatally to young adulthood.
  • Brain development is integrated. The areas underlying social, emotional and cognitive skills are connected and rely on each other.
  • Toxic stress, in the form of poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, exposure to violence and limited positive and nurturing behaviors, disrupts brain development and can have a lifelong effect on learning, behavior and health.
  • Positive parenting and creating the right conditions can buffer toxic stress and build resilience.

Subscribe to MightyFrederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  This is a motivating principle behind many states’ efforts to bolster early child development through policy and practice. In the state of Washington, this is our mission. State leaders are using a collective impact1 initiative to provide a structure for cross-sector stakeholders, including state departments, foundations, social service agencies and pediatricians, to forge a common agenda around the shared vision that all children in Washington will thrive in safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments, beginning with a focus primarily on the first 1,000 days.

It all begins with a conversation. That’s why the discussions convened by Children’s among pediatric clinicians and state leaders are so valuable. It sends a signal that pediatricians and primary care providers as well as policymakers have important roles to play in this work. By working together and focusing on our youngest at the most critical points in time, we can change the course of life and set our children on a path toward good health and academic success.

Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH, is clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.


1 Stanford social innovations review 2013, “How collective impact address complexity” — John Kania and Mark Kramer.