Dr. Meghan Walls, Director of External Affairs, Nemours Children’s HealthDec 07, 2022 01:02PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Children’s Health recently named Hockessin resident Dr. Meghan
Walls as its Director of External Affairs, Delaware Valley. In this
pivotal role, Dr. Walls will work to build awareness of the Nemours
Children’s Health mission and garner support for its strategic
objectives with elected officials and community leaders.
Recently, Dr. Walls met with Greenville & Hockessin Life to discuss her new position, key objectives for Nemours Children’s Health, as well as major concerns about children’s health and hopeful breakthroughs.
Greenville & Hockessin Life: In your new role with Nemours Children’s Health, you have been given the responsibility of promoting and garnering support for its strategic objectives with elected officials and community leaders through policy and legislation. Define a few of those key objectives.
Dr. Meghan Walls: Nemours Children’s Health is committed to serving its patients and families, and supporting policies that give families better access to care from a holistic standpoint. It is essential that when we do this work, we partner with community leaders and elected officials to meet our goals. One of the things we really pride ourselves on is not working in a silo, and our partnerships enable us to accelerate our ability to serve families.
Broadly speaking, two of the key legislative objectives on our agenda are making sure that children have health care coverage, and that we expand and assure access to mental health care.
In your qualified opinion, what is the number one concern regarding children’s health today?
We know that about 80 percent of the impact on children’s health takes place outside of the medical setting. Exacerbated by the pandemic, social factors and environmental factors are both playing a huge role in children’s mental health, and Nemours is committed to addressing these issues on a local and national level, in order to work toward creating the healthiest generations of children.
Let’s take these concerns a step further. The mental health of children continues to be affected by the influence of societal and peer pressure, the in-your-face impact of social media, and the need to succeed academically. That is a ton of bricks for any young person to handle. In your role as a clinician, what patterns in child behaviors have you been seeing?
During the height of COVID-19, I was seeing a lot of children and adolescents, and I called the pandemic “the perfect storm for poor mental health.” There were increases in isolation, an increasing sense of the loss of control due to many more unknowns. For our older kids, we saw increases in depression, anxiety and low moods, and for our younger kids, we saw additional changes in behavior brought upon by factors such as the loss of sleep.
If there was any good news during the pandemic, it was that it brought more focused attention on these issues that enabled families to learn how to reach out and say, “My son or daughter is struggling. Let’s get him or her help, now.”
The pandemic has come in waves, and we continue to see these ups and downs in children’s difficulties, but at the same time, we know that kids can be resilient, and we anticipate that we will see improvements in behavior as we continue to navigate this new normal. I see COVID-19 as a universal trauma, and we are still picking up the pieces of that, but as we do so, I anticipate that we will see our children function better as we get further from the height of the pandemic.
How can parents begin to help their children sort through this mess to find contentment, and gain self-acceptance?
There are two major things I have been telling parents throughout the pandemic and continue to do so. The first is normalizing and validating the pandemic. It is important for children to hear their parents tell them, “It’s been a really hard couple of years. I know you have a lot more pressure, and have to do a lot more online education, and we can understand why you’re more stressed.”
Sometimes, parents feel so much pressure to always say and do the right thing, but here is what we know: The most predictive factor in resilient children, beyond anything else – is the presence of at least one supportive and consistent caregiver. Spending quality time with our kids -- listening to them, validating them and making them feel heard – goes a very long way. These conversations give kids the assurance that they and their parents are in this together.
What breakthroughs and initiatives - policy, legislation, clinical and otherwise - are you seeing in the area of children’s health? In other words, what progress is giving you the biggest hope for the overall health of children?
In our work at Nemours Children’s Health, we are seeing more and more of the general public gain clear information about mental health care, and it’s one of the most important things we are doing. As we work through improving policies that truly speak to children’s wellness, we are making things more accessible, creating a more broad and public forum, and giving them the gift of letting them make the decisions for their children in a more informed way.
What is your favorite spot in Greenville or Hockessin?
My top spot is Ashland Nature Center, which is where my husband and I let our kids and our dogs run around and get some exercise. It is easily accessible to our house, and during COVID-19, it was by far my family’s favorite place to get out of the house and get some fresh air.
Meghan Walls organizes a dinner party, and can invite anyone she wishes – famous or not, living or not. Who would we see around that dinner table?
My mom is at the top of that list, and my table would also include Barack and Michelle Obama; Edith Wilson, the wife of President Woodrow Wilson; Taylor Swift; Meghan Markle and Princess Diana; Bill Gates; F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jacqueline Kennedy.
What item can always be found in your refrigerator?
I have two young children, so I think the only acceptable answer here is ketchup.
To learn more about Nemours Children’s Health, visit www.nemours.org.
-- Richard L. Gaw
G & h life q and a 1 Courtesy photo Dr. Meghan Walls