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Step by Step A long-term program helps parents navigate their child’s development ew parents have countless questions. Whether it’s your first child or your fifth, it’s not uncommon to worry constantly about their health and development. That’s where HealthySteps comes in. It’s an evidence-based, interdisciplinary pediatric primary care program that ensures young children receive nurturing parenting and are set up for healthy development, and it’s been embedded in Children’s Primary Care Medical Group offices in Murrieta and Temecula since May 2019. “HealthySteps supports families of young children with their questions about development and behavior,” says Sarah Nolan, HealthySteps program manager. “Parents usually have two main questions when they come in for a traditional well-child visit: Is my child healthy, and am I doing a good job as a parent? Pediatricians do a great job at answering the first question, but the second question is harder. HealthySteps specialists help them understand that question.” HealthySteps begins with the child’s newborn visit and continues until they are 6 years old. In that time, the HealthySteps specialist builds a trusted relationship with the family, providing additional screenings for postpartum depression and anxiety for moms and dads, as well as screenings for development, basic needs and connections to resources. Assisting the parents is the most effective means to help the child. “That’s the essence of HealthySteps,” Nolan says. “It’s not just looking at the child, but looking at the child through the lens of the whole family. If any part of the family isn’t doing well, the entire family is affected. We’re there to offer support so that parents can support their child.” Since its launch at CPCMG nearly two years ago, HealthySteps has served more than 2,000 families in Murrieta and Temecula. One of them was Valerie Daniel and her daughter Jade. At Jade’s 2-year-old checkup, they met Lisa Tuzzeo, a HealthySteps specialist, who identified her speech delays and recommended a speech evaluation. At her 3-year-old visit in October 2020, N
when her speech still hadn’t improved and she was displaying behaviors linked to autism spectrum disorder, Tuzzeo provided additional screenings. “The more questions Lisa asked about Jade’s behavior, the more I was saying, ‘Yes, she does that,’” Valerie recalls. “Afterward, when Lisa and Jade’s doctor told me they thought she had autism, I didn’t know what that meant for her for the rest of her life—it was a big thing to hear. HealthySteps helped so much with getting her official diagnosis. Lisa would call me and ask how she was doing and help get all her assessments done quickly. I’ve broken down on the phone—it’s a lot of information to take in—but I feel like I could go to Lisa with any question. I’m very fortunate that I ran into someone like her. You can tell she really cares about the children and families that come her way.” Now, Jade is registered for preschool and her mom is empowered by the knowledge and resources she needs to be her daughter’s biggest advocate. “The more knowledge I sought out and the more informed I became, I realized there’s nothing wrong with my child. She’s the same child she was before I found out, but now I have a better understanding and I can be the best parent I can,” she says. “I’m grateful that HealthySteps helped catch the fact that Jade was autistic at such a young age, because early intervention is key. And I’m so grateful that Lisa has been there to help me out all along the way.” For her part, Tuzzeo says it’s stories like this that drive her passion for what she does: “It is so very hard to hear something could be wrong with your child. What stands out, too, is how this mom was able to process [Jade’s diagnosis], tackle it and become her child’s biggest advocate. Empowering parents with the resources and support to advocate for their children in a way that increases their confidence and ability to positively parent is the very best part of my job.” HealthySteps is a national program of Zero to Three and is funded by First 5 Commission of Riverside. For more information, visit healthysteps.org.
SPRING 2021 HEALTHY KIDS MAGAZINE 31
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