Partner Spotlight: Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read believes all families should have access to books and the meaningful moments created by shared reading with children. Reach Out and Read is a two-generation intervention unique for its unparalleled access to children through the medical home, supporting families through the trusted voice of their medical provider.

The research-based model has three parts:

  • Medical providers prescribe books during well-child visits while teaching and training caregivers about how to share books and why it’s important
  • Each child is given a new, culturally and developmentally appropriate book to take home.
  • Clinic environments support literacy-rich messaging and resources for families.

“Spending time with a loving adult provides exceptional benefits for young children,” said Pam Bacot, Program Manager with Reach Out and Read North Carolina. “The simple act of reading aloud together helps create a lasting emotional connection, stimulates a child’s cognitive development, and lays the groundwork for a lifelong love of reading and learning.”

Guilford County has been a part of Reach Out and Read since 1998. Originally designed for children 6 months to age five, Bacot shared that Reach Out and Read has committed as an organization to shifting this model to begin at the earliest visit after birth. Across North Carolina, including Guilford County, Reach Out and Read will support parents and caregivers from the very beginning.

“Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. We know that 80 percent of a child’s brain develops by age three,” said Bacot, “Advances in our understanding of early childhood development over the last 25 years have shown us it’s essential that parents engage with their children from birth. While someone with a newborn may not be thinking about kindergarten readiness, this is the time for the foundation to be set.”

This extension adds four additional Reach Out and Read visits – newborn, one-month, two-month, and four-month well visits — for every child.

According to Bacot, Reach Out and Read serves more than 10,000 children in Guilford County in a typical year. During the pandemic in 2020, Reach Out and Read served more than 9700 children at ten participating sites and distributed nearly 16,000 books in our county. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we were so pleased to move forward with our mission,” Bacot said.

Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) partners with Reach Out and Read, HealthySteps, Family Connects, and Nurse-Family Partnership through our Navigation system. Navigation ensures every pregnant person and their family has information and support as their family grows. Starting prenatally, dedicated Navigators meet with families to understand their strengths, needs, and goals. Then we work together to make secure connections to services, resources, or support that will make a difference, eliminating gaps and providing a seamless experience.

“We’re also pleased to partner with Ready Ready for The Basics Guilford, offering easy ways for parents and caregivers to enhance their serve-and-return relationships with their youngest children,” Bacot said. “This give and take model helps foster learning. Together, we guide high-quality implementation and integration of these programs in medical home settings, hospital systems, and other community locations serving pregnant persons and families with young children.”

Reach Out and Read is the only national pediatric literacy model endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization trains, supports, and engages medical providers. Because they work closely with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families, they have a particular vantage point and understand how social determinants of health like poverty, literacy, housing, food insecurity, and access to parenting resources affect a child’s healthy development.

Reach Out and Read’s research shows that having a strong, loving bond with an adult can even undo some of the harm created by adverse childhood experiences – experiences that include the negative impacts of poverty and racism, abuse, a divorce, or an illness in the family.

“We like to say a book is a powerful tool. In the hands of a child, it can be a portal to a world of imagination. For a parent, it can be the catalyst that brings the family together, creating meaningful moments that forge strong bonds,” said Bacot.