Children’s Environmental Health Network: Protecting young children from environmental exposure

Protecting young children from environmental exposureIn the 1980s there was a stimulus to connect children’s health and the environment. Pediatricians sought training on the unknowns around lead poisoning and other conditions they were treating. In response to this growing demand, a few individuals organized the first pediatric health conference to address these gaps, and out of this the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) was born. 

“Joy Carlson, our founding director, started the Children’s Environmental Health Network to be a voice for children’s health and call attention to the many environmental hazards facing our very youngest,” says Nsedu Witherspoon, executive director of CEHN. 

Based in Washington D.C., CEHN has worked for more than 20 years to advocate for environmental health and justice to better protect young children. A grantee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, CEHN works to increase awareness of environmental hazards to children through prevention-oriented research, promote child-focused public health policies and provide educational resources. It plays a pivotal role in working with childcare trainers and health practitioners to equip them with tools and preventative strategies.
 
According to the Environmental Health Perspectives story on Environmental Exposures in the Context of Child Care, environmental health standards in childcare settings function in a poorly regulated landscape due to the lack of state mandates for environmental codes and conducts. CEHN’s voluntary training and endorsement program addresses the training side, and strives to go further. 

“Our long-term goal is to get our program incorporated into state health and safety programs, and to make sure these standards are mandatory and that the childcare centers are licensed,” shares Witherspoon.

Factors that contribute to the lack of standardization in the field include tight budgets and limited education for training staff about environmental hazards. Add in a fairly small number of studies on the pollutants that are present within childcare settings and you have a pressing need to identify all the exposures and enforce practices to abate them.

This baseline is what CEHN is dedicated to building. And, it does so through research, partnerships, advocacy and educational tools.

Training and education for health care professionals
CEHN’s latest work involves updating its pediatric training manual, which was originally created in the early 1990s as an environmental health teaching tool for health care professionals and pediatricians. What was intended to be a desktop reference for use in clinical visits has now become the most downloaded manual on the CEHN website. With support from the Kellogg Foundation, the manual has been expanded and is available through a PowerPoint module. Health care trainers and practitioners may easily find select modules that are relevant to their work for use in their presentations. The audience for this new guide has expanded from aiding health care professionals to include environmental justice leaders and community members and serves as an educational tool to support advocacy efforts. 

Additionally, CEHN’s resource guide, the first of its kind, helps individuals access key information in children’s environmental health. It includes details about organizations active in the field, sources of data on children's health and environmental toxicants, and other relevant materials that pertain to children's environmental health.

CEHN’s role as collaborator and environmental justice advocate
Through its rapidly growing voluntary training and endorsement program, CEHN provides in-person training to child care licensing staff and health consultants. This enables practitioners to reduce environmental exposures in childcare facilities, especially in areas with limited access to best practices.

CEHN recognizes the disproportionate impact on racially diverse and less affluent populations.
“We have found, that more often than not, the children who are being adversely impacted come from families that have limited access to best practices and knowledge of the serious health effects that arise from over-exposure to toxic cleaners and poor air quality,” says Witherspoon. 

In her current role, Witherspoon builds relationships with pediatric researchers and practitioners to increase the field’s knowledge.

As part of CEHN’s collaborative partnerships, parents who cannot afford expensive care are made aware of important resources, such as the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs). They may call their regional PEHSU emergency line for free and receive advice and knowledge on how to care for their chilren’s conditions. They connect to human voices and are helped by childcare and environmental health experts.

A core component of CEHN’s work is connecting with all PEHSU center leaders and encouraging sharing of lessons learned to build a large resource base. In addition to being an agent for funding, a large part of CEHN’s role in the field is to serve as a communications portal and helping to broadcast and leverage their partners’ work.  This work equips childcare providers with the preventive strategies to maintain high environmental health standards and safeguards environmental health for children, affording them the opportunity to grow into healthy adults. 

Learn more about CEHN.

Grant Detail

Children's Environmental Health Network

Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Plan/lead in creating a blueprint for action in children's environmental health, strengthen capacity to meet this leadership role and implement training for child care professionals to reduce environmental health hazards

Healthy Kids
Jan. 1, 2014 - Dec. 31, 2016
$575,000

District of Columbia

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Putting Children First

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