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Happy, Healthy Kids

UNLV research center tackles tough issues in child wellbeing through community programs and legislative advocacy.
Research  |  Nov 12, 2013  |  By Kate Stowell
(Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

For more than 15 years, UNLV's Nevada Institute for Children's Research and Policy (NICRP) has been improving the lives of Nevada's children through research, advocacy, and other specialized services. Collaborating with community groups, educators, parents and policymakers, "The NICRP conducts research, program evaluation, and policy analysis to provide information on issues facing children and families in Nevada, as well as advocating for Nevada's children on a nationwide basis to ensure that their interests are addressed," said Tara Phebus, interim executive director of the NICRP.

Although the nonprofit's research is wide ranging, it focuses particularly on child injury prevention, children's health, and child maltreatment.

Child Injury Prevention

You would think the safest place a newborn could be is nestled into his or her crib. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. One of the NICRP's newest programs targets infant death related to unsafe sleeping conditions - just one aspect of child injury prevention.

"Since 2006, we've seen about 21-22 infant deaths in Clark County alone related to unsafe sleep environments," Phebus said.

The program was created along with the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), Clark County Child Death Review Team and UMC. The program involves working with local hospitals to implement an infant sleep position policy to ensure that parents receive the information, education and training on how to create safe sleeping conditions for their newborns. During their stay at the hospital, all parents are shown an 8-minute video created by SNHD, NICRP and Child Death Review Team specifically for this program. It demonstrates how to properly place the infant down to sleep and provides examples of what a safe sleep space for a baby looks like.

The program already has been implemented at UMC. NICRP has set a five-year goal to integrate the program in 10 birthing hospitals in Clark County.

Children's Health

Following children from infants to pre-K, for the past five years the NICRP has worked with 17 different Nevada school districts to determine the health status of children prior to entering kindergarten.

The survey, which is distributed in the incoming students' enrollment packets, asks a wide array of questions related to health insurance status, chronic illness diagnoses, doctor or dentist visits in the past year, physical activity, and eating habits, such as soda consumption. The results are compiled in the NICRP's annual Nevada Kindergarten Health Survey Report, providing an overview of Nevada children's health.

"This particular survey helps us determine if there's something we can or should be doing with parents or children while they are in early childhood education centers to ensure that they are entering public school healthy and ready to learn," Phebus said.

Although the survey is not mandatory for parents to complete, the NICRP participation has been strong. The data has helped the Nevada school districts and state officials develop legislation related to school health monitoring and school activities.

"People always want to know, 'How bad is it?' and because of this data, we're able to say, 'X amount of kids are already coming into school overweight or obese,' or 'X percent of kids coming into school don't have health insurance.' Those kinds of numbers are helpful in determining the direction of upcoming legislation and policy."

Child Maltreatment

The NICRP's research and advocacy extends beyond just young children, though. The nonprofit follows children from infancy through young adulthood. One area that impacts children, regardless of age, is abuse and neglect.

NICRP is now the state's fully chartered chapter for the national Prevent Child Abuse America organization. This positions the NICRP to bring different partners together to develop better strategies and programs that support healthy families and prevent child maltreatment.

Currently, the institute is working with the State Division of Child and Family Services, the departments of Family Services in Las Vegas and Washoe County, and the local Family Resource Center on programs to curb child abuse. While these partners may not have programs devoted specifically to preventing child abuse, they offer Baby Care, Nurturing Parents and Families, and The ABCs of Parenting, which are devoted to child development or strengthening families.

"By providing these resources and services, the stressors or frustrations that can lead to child abuse are reduced, which then in turn, reduces child maltreatment," Phebus said.

One goal for this program is to engage the business community more in children's issues and abuse prevention. A community advisory board has already been established for Prevent Child Abuse Nevada, but Phebus hopes to include more people from the business community.

"In addition to the research we do here at NICRP, we'd like to make people more aware of the different issues facing children across Nevada -- and how they can help make a difference."