Parent Fills Unique Role in Pediatric Practice

Beverly Harper and Dr. Derrick
Comparing Notes. Beverly Harper (left) discusses the needs of a new patient and her family with Dr. Warren Derrick (right).

It wasn't unusual for Beverly Harper to get a call from her son Matthew's school about his aggressive behavior in the classroom. Yet Harper was determined to do whatever was necessary to help her son, who has autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Then she met some parents through Family Connection of South Carolina, a support network for families of children with special needs. Harper found out that she didn't need to go it alone. "There was nothing I could say that these parents didn't understand, empathize or cry with me about," she said.

Through Family Connection, Harper was also paired up with a volunteer Support Parent, a mother of a child with the same diagnosis. This one-on-one relationship helped her in managing the day-to-day challenges of raising a child with autism. Years later, in the summer of 2007, Harper was ready to take on a helping role herself. Twice a week she spends half a day at the Children's Hospital Outpatient Center with a unique new program. There she provides support and information to mothers and fathers of children with disabilities or chronic medical conditions. Her employment as a Parent-to-Parent Partner was made available through a grant secured by Department of Health and Environmental Control and South Carolina Solutions.

South Carolina Solutions is a medical home network, which is a team approach to providing health care, that’s jointly sponsored by the School of Medicine and an administrative organization known as Community Solutions of Florida. Its purpose is to offer a network of doctors and other health care professionals to patients using Medicaid and help coordinate these services. Harper's presence in the outpatient center represents the first time a Parent-to-Parent Partner has been provided for a pediatric practice in South Carolina as part of a medical home network.

Dr. Warren Derrick, Distinguished Professor Emeritus-Pediatrics, is integrally involved in South Carolina Solutions and serves as a board member for Family Connection. Over the past 30 years at the School of Medicine, he's experienced many parents who suddenly found themselves facing a life-altering diagnosis. “The most important thing is to help families understand that this is not as devastating as they might think," he said.

That's where Beverly Harper comes in. Working with the physicians and nurses as part of the medical team, she offers a listening ear and a warm heart when parents are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. "One of the great things about having a parent right there in the clinic is that these families immediately know that they are not the only ones in the world with a child with special needs," said Jackie Richards, Associate Director, Family Connection.

A former librarian who puts her research skills to use, Harper educates parents on the various health care and educational resources available to them through Family Connection and other organizations. When some couples communicate to Harper that they don't need any further assistance, she lets them know they can get back in touch later on. "In a loving way I tell them that we all need some help. It took me a year before I chose to reach out to other parents, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made."

Dr. Derrick cites another important benefit of parents supporting other families who are raising a child with the same diagnosis. "A parent who has been there knows the red flags to watch for that could avoid a long ER visit or hospitalization. That goes a long way to improve the health of the child.