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Michigan group outside Capital advocating for children's online safety and access to emergency care

A group from Michigan stands outside the Capitol, where they advocated for children’s online safety and access to emergency medical care during the AAP Advocacy Conference. Pictured from left are Kelly Huggett, M.D., FAAP, Nishika Patel, Molly O’Shea, M.D., FAAP, Mara Perch, D.O., FAAP, Leen Younis, M.D., FAAP, and Michal Ruprecht.

Conference preps pediatricians to advocate for child health issues in nation’s capital

May 15, 2024

Nearly 300 pediatricians from 45 states and Washington, D.C., attended the annual AAP Advocacy Conference, which culminated in meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for children’s online safety and access to emergency medical care.

Attendees spent two days participating in workshops during the conference held April 14-16 to learn advocacy skills and hear from AAP and government leaders on key child health issues before putting their new skills into action.

Learning new skills and exploring key issues

AAP President Benjamin D. Hoffman, M.D., FAAP, a self-professed “car seat nerd,” kicked off the conference with a keynote address. He discussed his advocacy journey, which included becoming a certified car seat technician and helping to draft lifesaving car seat safety legislation in New Mexico. Dr. Hoffman challenged attendees to know their North Star and lean into their origin stories to boost their advocacy.

AAP CEO/Executive Vice President Mark Del Monte, J.D., then gave a talk highlighting the political landscape in the lead-up to the November elections. He explained that pediatricians are natural advocates who rise above partisanship to accomplish their advocacy goals.

Throughout Sunday afternoon, attendees joined sessions that covered key child health topics ranging from domestic issues like Medicaid and juvenile justice reform to global issues like migration and vaccine advocacy abroad. Meanwhile, skill workshops covered storytelling, advocating through adversity and honing more advanced advocacy skills for experienced attendees.

Hearing from leading voices in government

This year’s conference offered several unique pediatrician voices at various levels of state and federal government.

On Sunday afternoon, attendees heard from a panel of three pediatricians serving in government: Elizabeth Tilson, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, state health director and chief medical officer for North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services; Michael K. Hole, M.D., M.B.A., FAAP, a White House fellow at the Domestic Policy Council in the Executive Office of the President; and Capt. Michael L. Bartholomew, M.D., FAAP, deputy director for the Division of Health Professions Support at the Indian Health Service. The panelists spoke about their personal journeys that led them to bring their pediatric expertise to a career in public service.

On Monday morning, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom J. Vilsack, J.D., gave remarks on the agency’s work to promote child nutrition in schools and at home. He then sat down with Dr. Hoffman to answer questions from attendees and thanked pediatricians for their steadfast advocacy for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a major AAP priority. Vilsack encouraged attendees to continue bringing their stories to lawmakers to push for continued funding for WIC.

After convening with their state delegations to prepare for their Capitol Hill visits, attendees heard from U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D., FAAP (D-Wash.), the first pediatrician to serve in the House of Representatives. In a conversation with Dr. Hoffman, Rep. Schrier recalled a discussion with a friend as she was weighing a run for office. Her friend asked: “If not now, then when? If not you, then who?”

Rep. Schrier discussed her perspective on the issue of kids and technology, how to make Congress work in a more bipartisan fashion and why other pediatricians should consider running for elected office.

Telling stories on gun violence prevention

Throughout the conference, pediatricians had an opportunity to share their stories on firearm violence. Through a partnership with Story Corps — a nonprofit focused on recording, preserving and sharing stories of people across the country — several attendees sat down with friends, family members and colleagues to discuss the impact gun violence has had on them both professionally and personally. Storytellers included Dr. Hoffman, AAP Immediate Past President Sandy L. Chung, M.D., FAAP, and AAP Chief Health Equity Officer and Senior Vice President Joseph L. Wright, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP.

All conference attendees were invited to share their stories via a survey throughout the conference, and many answered the call with stories about their firsthand experiences working with patients affected by gun violence.

Taking issues to Capitol Hill

On the last day of the conference, attendees headed to Capitol Hill to lobby for three pieces of bipartisan legislation. Two of these bills — the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA 2.0) — are aimed at keeping children safe and healthy in the digital world.

KOSA establishes a duty of care requiring platforms to avoid certain harms to minors, provides young people new tools and safeguards to control their digital experience, and gives the public transparency into the harms these platforms pose and what companies are doing to address them.

COPPA 2.0 strengthens data privacy safeguards for children passed in the original COPPA law in 1998, extends protections to teens and imposes meaningful limits on how companies can use the data they collect from young people like a prohibition on data-driven targeted ads.

The third bill pediatricians brought to the Hill was the bipartisan Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) Reauthorization Act. This bill would extend EMSC, the only federal program focused on enhancing emergency care for children and adolescents, for five years. The program ensures that hospitals and ambulances are equipped with the supplies needed for pediatric patients experiencing emergencies.

Before heading to their meetings to advocate for these bills, attendees heard from five members of the House as well as U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The bipartisan group of elected officials touted their child health policy accomplishments and called on pediatricians to continue advocating across key issues.

Attendees ended the conference by visiting 241 House and Senate offices to advocate for children and remind our nation’s leaders that pediatricians will always speak up for their patients and their communities.

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