Dr. Deborah Frank, Founder and Director of the Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center, took time to communicate with Cureus about the work that she and her team have been involved in for well over twenty years.

Since 1984, Dr. Frank’s Boston area specialty clinic has been treating children diagnosed with “Failure To Thrive (FTT).” Children with FTT do not achieve expected height and weight milestones for their age. As a result, they are at high risk for various difficulties including increased vulnerability to illness, delays in the development of language, learning, attention and motor skills, continued growth failure, and emotional problems.

The Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, provides multidisciplinary services to children with FTT and their families. Dr. Frank’s team consists of faculty physicians, social workers, nutritionists, and outreach workers, all of whom are strongly committed helping children who have been diagnosed with FTT. The clinic serves a particularly vulnerable population in which all of the children are moderately to severely malnourished. Approximately 10% of the children live in shelters or are homeless, most of the children and families served by the clinic have public health insurance, and 68% live below the poverty level.

The Grow Clinic team approaches malnutrition as a medical as well as a social/economic condition. In order to address their patients’ needs, the Grow Clinic provides services to patients in the clinic as well as in other environments in which they are fed. This includes homes, day cares, shelters and schools. The team collaborates in order to assess the nutritional, social service, and emotional needs of each child and family. In addition to the nutritional needs of the child, their outreach program addresses issues such as housing, food, clothing, and transportation. Dr. Frank’s passion and dedication to this work, along with the incredible commitment of her team, has allowed them to improve the health of over 1700 children.

According to Dr. Frank, similar clinics exist in Baltimore, Little Rock, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and other Massachusetts locations. Dr. Frank’s clinic is considered the flagship, as they are unique in the amount of outreach, home visits, and concrete supports (such as high chairs, food vouchers, assistance locating housing) that they provide. When asked what she feels helps families the most, Dr. Frank said “We don’t just jaw bone them. We facilitate doing what is needed.” This includes assistance such as giving families a high chair, helping them fill out Head Start applications, distributing food and supermarket cards, writing advocacy letters to homeless shelters, and many other things. Dr. Frank stated that the clinic could not function without the philanthropic support they receive, which allows them to purchase items for families and also maintain their staff.

In addition to the Grow Clinic, Dr. Frank is also the Founder and Principal Investigator of Children’s HealthWatch. Her research interests include child health and development as it is influenced by cumulative risk factors such as food, energy, and housing insecurity.

For more information about The Grow Clinic for Children click here.