Where Great Stories Begin

October 21, 2015 |

Reach Out and Read Improves Family and Child Health Outcomes through Primary Care

New article The Elephant in the Clinic examines the multifaceted role of Reach Out and Read in the promotion of early literacy and family well-being, two generations at a time, through primary healthcare.


You may have heard the Indian parable in which a group of blind men attempt to identify an elephant, each of them describing it from their own perspective as they feel what is in front of them. In The Elephant in the Clinic: Early Literacy and Family Well-Being, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MLSIS, MD and Amy Shriver, MD, examine Reach Out and Read using this parable as a metaphor — early literacy promotion is more than a mere clinic-based book giveaway.

With a powerful mix of storytelling, scientific evidence, and data, this report presents the various perspectives of the Reach Out and Read model, an approach by which primary care providers promote family engagement and early literacy during well-child checkups. Viewed through different lenses, this intervention is a book giveaway, a school readiness, and a public health program; it helps clinicians to build parental capacities, and conduct developmental and relational surveillance; it buffers toxic stress in families; it is inexpensive, scalable, and evidence-based.

Full of beautiful photographs, quotes, helpful anecdotes, and information boxes, the Elephant in the Clinic shows how, just as the blind men needed to examine the elephant from all angles to identify it, the true value of Reach Out and Read can only be appreciated by considering all of its various facets. It illustrates how the depth and diversity of Reach Out and Read helps to “fulfill the promise of child health supervision visits – to provide expertise, tools, and guidance that positively shape the home environment and, ultimately, improve family and child health outcomes.”

With advances in our understanding around the significance of the word gap between high- and low-income families and the impacts of toxic stress on parents and their children, we cannot afford to ignore this model, with the national potential to expand opportunities for all families.

This article is the result of a partnership between the Ascend Network of the Aspen Institute and Reach Out and Read; Dr. Navsaria is a Reach Out and Read National Center board member and medical advisor and Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, as well as a member of the Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows’ 2015 class, and Dr. Shriver is Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Iowa.

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