Advocating for early childhood help

June 1, 2009

Profile of nonprofit lobbying group Docs 4 Tots.

But what is wise spending? Long-term investment like Head Start? More immediate health programs? Politicians on every level, from senators to town supervisors, need advice to find the best ways to help the most kids.

This is where pediatricians enter the discussion. "The physician is society's most trusted messenger for early childhood issues," says pediatrician Dina Lieser, MD. Lieser is the executive director of Docs 4 Tots, a non-profit group focused on advocating for early childhood.

But one doesn't have to run for office to make a difference. "We have opportunities that can take minutes: e-advocacy," Lieser adds. Docs 4 Tots will forward you information on one of its current causes, and local contacts. Forward their letter on, or write your own letter. A message from a pediatrician about an early childhood matter could sway a key decision-maker about the validity of funding full-day preschool, or an early literacy program, notes Lieser.

Want more? You can testify at a hearing on a child health matter. Or write an op-ed or letter to the editor in the local paper: Lieser and company will help you craft it. You can even serve on a child health committee. "It all depends on the comfort level," she says.

There can be karma-like benefits to your work, Lieser noted. "This offers pediatricians the chance to become more visible in their community." You won't become Dr. Spock, but you might find that patients and parents like that their pediatrician is well known. "It's great marketing, so to speak," she adds.

Program funding has to come from somewhere. "We still, as a society, spend so disproportionately," Lieser said. Instead of extravagant funding for special education and criminal justice programs, she suggests some of the funding could be better spent preventatively. It will take a lot of work to "shift that paradigm," she notes.

The new economic stimulus package may be the turning point. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being distributed with clear expectations and measured results for the betterment of society. Pediatricians can help explain to decision-makers how the investment in early childhood is a sounder investment than any stock or bond.

But with the state if the economy, money for critical programs may very well decrease. "So many states are experiencing budget cuts," Leiser said. "The physician's voice is more critical than ever." But they have to speak up to be heard.