Elevating the Standard of Care for Every Baby in Atlanta: Talk With Me Baby at Grady Hospital
By Rollins Center for Language & Literacy of the Atlanta Speech School
Grady Memorial Hospital has redefined the standard of care for babies through a groundbreaking initiative developed and tested at Grady over the past five years called Talk With Me Baby. Devotion to the idea of “language nutrition” is at the core of Grady’s work.
With that new emphasis, Grady has reformulated what it means to have a healthy delivery. To date, more than 6,700 Grady Babies’ families have benefited from this revised standard.
The brain is constructed over time, beginning before birth and continuing into adulthood. For the first three years of life, that growth is exponential, with more than 1 million neural connections being formed each second. Language-centered ecosystems, through which language nutrition is seamlessly delivered, make the most of that rapid growth, when the brain is uniquely receptive. TWMB (Talk With Me Baby) strengthens those ecosystems through deeper language engagement between parent and child from the outset, with the support of every adult the family encounters in the hospital.
“Talk With Me Baby isn’t just a program at Grady,” says Denise Mayhan, Director, Practice Operations for TWMB, “It is integrated into our everyday interactions with our patients and families and how we welcome every Grady Baby into the world. The foundation for early brain development and all future learning begins before a baby is even born. That makes language nutrition a critical part of a healthy delivery that our staff and families fully embrace.”
Talk With Me Baby, now becoming a national initiative, focuses on early language development that aligns with early brain growth. Grady has fully integrated the principles and practices of TWMB, making them central to the entire perinatal ecosystem– from prenatal care and classes and extending through post-partum care. Because of TWMB, every family leaves the hospital knowing that they play a critical role in their baby’s brain development – and they learn how to enact that role.
National experts have taken note. “I was amazed by how much TWMB has been infused into the entire Grady staff – physicians, nurses, medical support staff, receptionists, custodial staff, etc.,” says Walter Gilliam, PhD, Director, Edward Zigler Center in Child Development & Social Policy, Yale School of Medicine, who observed the ecosystem in action. “It seemed as if everyone at Grady has bought into the importance of interacting with babies from the moment of birth and supporting parents in their interactions with their newborns.”
Since becoming the Talk With Me Baby flagship birthing hospital in 2017, TWMB’s practices and principles have been fully integrated in all routine perinatal care. Since then, 7500 newly hired staff have been oriented on the TWMB approach, and 1200 within Women and Infant Health Services have been trained as coaches.
This system-wide approach to adoption of powerful new practices helped to serve as the blueprint for Literacy & Justice for All (LJFA), a community-wide collaboration now in its second year. The creation of this language-centered ecosystem is led by the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy with Marietta City Schools and other partners, funded by the United Way of Greater Atlanta with support from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, and coordinated by Learn4Life.
Literacy & Justice for all, expanding to Atlanta in the coming year, begins with Talk With Me Baby and is part of the broader effort to reform and support early childhood education across the City of Atlanta. At his first State of the City address, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens pledged to “make Atlanta the best place in the country to raise a family.” Dickens committed to a $20 million public-private partnership in which $5 million will come from the City of Atlanta and another $5 million from the Atlanta Public Schools. Dickens has called upon the private sector to match that money with $10 million of its own. The United Way has met that call with a $4.5 million commitment.
LJFA focuses on bringing language and literacy to every child to ensure they are proficient readers by the end of third grade and are on a path to deep reading. It does this by supporting the entire literacy continuum, beginning with the language nutrition commitment to every baby and family developed by Grady. The aim in Marietta is to build a community-wide literacy ecosystem that extends from WellStar Kennestone Hospital through early childcare and into all the elementary schools of Marietta City Schools.
“We are very excited at WellStar to be in the development/roll-out phase of our Literacy & Justice for all initiative to ‘hard-wire’ the importance of Talk With Me Baby and reading – making it an essential and comfortable conversation at every opportunity between clinicians and parents,” says Avril Beckford, MD, Chief Pediatric Officer of the WellStar Health System. Denise Mayhem continues, “Integrated with initiatives such as Literacy and Justice 4 All, TWMB is becoming a movement that will help transform the lives of countless children and families in the Metro-Atlanta region and beyond.”
And now the movement has the opportunity spread dramatically. Just this month, the Rollins Center has expanded the reach of Talk With Me Baby by releasing the Talk With Me Baby Healthcare Integration Guide on Cox Campus(coxcampus.org), their free online learning community. This release will enable any hospital, anywhere, to fully integrate TWMB as the first step in ensuring all parents are equipped to provide their children access to their best future possible.
Talk With Me Baby is being independently evaluated by the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Children’s Hospital Boston. Several national experts have urged its immediate adoption universally, partially because of the powerful scientific logic on which it is based. Cox Campus makes that possible. Dr. Gilliam implores, “Babies do not have time to wait, and we shouldn’t either.”
For more information, contact Nadia Jones, EdD, Director of Partnerships, Rollins Center for Language & Literacy.
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