How Odessa Brown is supporting parents, shifting workplace culture

Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC) is a pediatric, primary care clinic of Seattle Children’s Hospital, located in Seattle’s Central District. Patients receive medical, dental, mental health and nutrition services regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

But what patients and their families may not realize is that thanks to a shifting clinic culture (and a little help from Vroom), babies’ brains are growing every time they walk (or crawl) through the door.

To understand more about the magic behind this miracle, we sat down with OBCC social worker Seema Mhatre.

Tell us a little bit about a typical day for you and your fellow social workers.
Days take on all shapes, but I work in our “birth to five” program, helping families with kids from the time they are born through their fifth year. As social workers, we often see families during times of crisis, and we’re there to try to help. We know we can’t fix everything but sometimes our work can be in the form of an encouraging conversation, problem-solving, or just letting a family know we’re available if they want or need us.

Odessa Brown’s Antwanette Lyons, Care Coordinator, hosts a table in the lobby of the clinic. She provides information about Vroom to families (in addition to nutritional guidance).

Sounds like a tough and rewarding job – but what does it have to do with brain-building?
Luckily, our work is not always about solving a crisis – sometimes, it’s about highlighting the positive.

Just the other day, a family was referred to us after experiencing a fire at their apartment building. They had to move out, and were justifiably stressed.

In a moment of calmness, the mother asked her infant sweetly, “What are you looking at? You’re just looking around!”

I told her that her child was interested in her actions, and wanted to know more. The baby was looking at her and learning! By asking questions of her baby and responding to her expressions, she was helping her baby’s brain grow. Even during a difficult moment like this, I could see this mom relax, knowing she was still a great parent even in the midst of a stressful situation.

How do you keep that frame of mind? What does this attitude look like throughout the clinic?
A big impetus for us was Vroom, which has been driving us for the past two or three years. The Vroom philosophy allows all of our staff to find ways to praise our families and provide encouragement – even when we don’t have “the” solution and things feel too big to manage. It sounds hard, but the results are immediate and incredible.

All of our staff find opportunities to praise parents for doing the things they already do. Then, we let them know that those little interactions – counting the fish in the fish tank, singing a song – are helping build their babies’ brains. They are so excited that we can’t resist showing them the Vroom app and cards, which reinforce those positive messages.

So all the staff participate in Vroom?
Yep, everyone from the receptionists at the front desk to the physicians know about Vroom and embrace it wholeheartedly. It’s nice because, no matter what your job is, you know you’re making a difference and working toward a common goal. Everyone is empowered, and ultimately, so are the caregivers.

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