Reach Out and Read Rhode Island Starts at BIRTH!

Reach Out and Read Rhode Island (RORRI) receives $231,000 in private donations and pledges from three donors: an anonymous family, Malcolm G. Chace Jr., and the Charles S. and Millicent P. Brown Foundation. The funding—the largest in the organization’s history—will be used to expand the program to begin at the first newborn office visit, and conduct a second evaluation on the impact of reading to children right away.

reach out and read rhode island starts at birth

The funding is inspired by a study conducted at Smithfield Pediatrics, a private practice run by Stephanie Penchuk MD and Dinusha Dietrich MD. The study was conceived in response to a statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics that urged caregivers to read daily to their child beginning at birth. It was designed by committee including, Pam High MD, Dinusha Dietrich MD, Diane DerMarderosian MD, and Natalie Golova MD, as well as former staff members, Kitty Douglas and Lila Neel. Between 2015-2017, surveys were administered to a cohort of families who started the program at the six-month checkup, and a cohort who started at the one-month checkup. Two remarkable outcomes surfaced from the study. Families who received books and guidance at the one-month checkup read more days per week and fathers’ involvement in daily reading was substantially higher compared to families who started at the six-month checkup. Smithfield Pediatrics expanded the program to begin at birth shortly after the conclusion of the study.

“New dads usually come to the first one or two visits, but after that it’s mostly the moms who bring the baby to the doctor,” says Dr. Dietrich regarding the study results. “So it’s critical to engage the dads at that first visit. I typically hand the book to the dad and tell him, ‘Since mom is taking care of feeding (especially if mom is nursing), this is going to be your job.’ I let them know that daily reading is going to help the baby’s brain develop and is a great way to bond with the baby. The dads’ eyes light up when they realize how they can support the baby in those first critical months of their child’s life.”

RORRI medical sites are required to participate in an in-person training, affectionately named the “Lunch and Learn Rhode Show” before expanding the program to newborns. The training program, led by retired pediatrician and RORRI board member Bonnie Hirsh MD, started over the summer and will continue until all medical sites are trained, which is anticipated for the end of 2020.

Reactions from RORRI medical providers who have started the program at birth are overwhelmingly positive. Dr. Beth Toolan, along with her staff at the Providence Community Health Center at Capitol Hill, took part in the Lunch and Learn training in September.

“For my patients, many of whom are either teen parents or new immigrants with very little, giving them the book is a concrete way to promote bonding with their baby,” says Dr. Toolan.

For the last 20 years, the medical community advised families to read to their children starting at the six-month pediatric checkup visit. Today, by beginning at birth, medical providers are afforded four additional opportunities to encourage and reinforce the critical impact reading aloud to children has on healthy brain development. And children will enter kindergarten with a home library of 14 books and be even more prepared for academic and lifelong success.

The evaluation, which will be conducted at two different pediatric practices, including a community health center and a private practice in South County will begin in early 2020.