Child illnesses: is it a trip to the ER or a late-night run to the store?

For parents, health literacy can be the difference between a trip to the local drug store for a cold remedy and an emergency room bill for hundreds of dollars or more. Unnecessary emergency room or doctor visits eat up limited resources of families, medical providers and government programs.

Parents want to do what is right for their children. In the face of uncertainty when trying to care for a sick child, a trip to a doctor or hospital may seem like the only option.

Parent Health Literacy Project
Staff and service providers who work with families of young children are encouraged to attend.
1 — 5 p.m.
Thursday, May 25
Kansas City, Missouri Health Department

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But is there another way? Could parents be empowered with a resource to help them determine what choices might be available to them? Is advice from well-meaning friends and family the best source for decision-making? How reliable is the information found on the internet or a popular TV show?

The Parent Health Literacy project, operated by the Kansas Head Start Association, has found a better way. Simply providing parents with a copy of the book, What To Do When Your Child Is Sick, and a brief orientation for how to use the book allows parents to make choices from among care options with reliable information.

Studies testing two methods of teaching parents how to use this book demonstrated a reduction in the use of unnecessary medical care of 32-55 percent. Similar reductions in missed work days for parents and school days for children were demonstrated. This not only allows families and medical providers to make better use of available resources, it allows low income families to keep money in their pockets for other family needs.

The Parent Health Literacy Project partners with organizations and service providers who work with families of young children. The project primarily focuses on reaching low-income families and those who are eligible for Medicaid. However, lack of health literacy is not limited to economically disadvantaged people. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), only 12 percent of American adults are proficiently health literate. 

A lack of functional health literacy not only leads to poor use of health care dollars, it can reduce health outcomes of treatment or even cause harm. Misuse of medication or errors in following medical instructions can extend healing time, spread illness, or worse.

The project trains staff of partner agencies who interact with parents. The training provides education on what health literacy is and how to recognize when a person may be at-risk. Staff are provided effective teaching techniques for assuring that information is understood and the person is able to follow through after the visit.

The Health Forward Foundation supports this project through an Applicant Defined Grant. The grant supports Parent Health Literacy classes for partners and helps provide copies of What To Do When Your Child Gets Sick in the Kansas City Metro area.  

A Parent Health Literacy class will be held Thursday, May 25 from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. at the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department. Registration is requested.

Organizations who are interested in becoming partners in the Parent Health Literacy project may contact Peggy Kelly at

You can find out more about Kansas Head Start Association on their website and on Facebook.

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006