Maria Mascarenhas, MBBS, Director of Integrative Health (IH) Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, knew that incorporating wellness therapies such as yoga, massage and mindfulness worked to lower stress, decrease pain and improve overall well-being for children in the hospital and those being treated for cancer and a host of other conditions.
However, many families in underserved areas in our community did not have access to these types of integrated health therapies as they are often not covered by insurance. With help from a Department of Pediatrics Diversity Endowment Award, a CHOP internal grant aimed at reducing disparities in healthcare, Dr. Mascarenhas is changing that with Project Be-WEHL. The BE-WEHL stands for BEhavioral health – Wellness Equity for a Healthy Life.
She and her team created a five-session, in-home wellness program that includes mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga and infant or child massage education to the entire family. Elements of sleep hygiene, physicial activity and nutrition education are part of the Project BE-WEHL curriculum as they are foundational to general well-being.
“We’re exciting to bring wellness services right into the community to help families to mitigate trauma they may have experienced and build resilience in children,” Dr. Mascarenhas says. “Through the session, both parents and children learn together. Parents can serve as role models for their children.”
The five sessions are divided into: activity and rest; mindful movement; pause and reflect; caring touch; and eating better.
To ensure the lessons and language were inclusive and appropriate, the team completed CHOP’s diversity and trauma-informed care trainings. Each lesson was then vetted to ensure it met those standards.
As Dr. Mascarenhas and her team were preparing to launch the program, the pandemic hit, so they quickly shifted gears and adapted the lesson plans for virtual education. Families receive materials – such as a cutting board and knife for the nutrition session and a yoga mat for the yoga session – so they can fully participate in each lesson.
Initially, the program is being offered to families whose children are being see in behavioral health for issues such as mild-to-moderate anxiety, depression, ADHD, adjustment disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.
Two families have finished all five sessions and several more have begun the program. The pilot program aims to work with 25 families.
“The family feedback has been fantastic,” Dr. Mascarenhas says. “Families told us they find what they learn to be really helpful.”
To broaden the reach of the program, the Project BE-WEHL team will invite parents who have gone through the program to be trained in how to present it to other families. “There will be some families that might feel more comfortable learning from a friend or neighbor – one of their peers – instead of someone from CHOP,” Dr. Mascarenhas says. “That will allow the program to reach even more families.”