Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

Article excerpt

A report on the development of a community-oriented education program


Childhood lead poisoning is one of the most common preventable pediatric problems in the United States today. The knowledge that currently exists in the scientific community about the sources and pathways of lead exposure and about possible ways of preventing the ensuing poisoning is sufficient to facilitate the development of programs that should permanently eradicate this disease (1). Measures aimed at addressing this problem in a comprehensive manner include community-wide, environmental interventions as well as educational and nutritional campaigns. Educational programs should have the elimination of lead hazards as their primary goal.

This paper discusses some key factors that aided the planning and development of a community-based intervention to prevent childhood lead poisoning. It presents an overview of a process of seeking, networking, and building coalitions or partnerships to combat a classic environmental health problem that confronts a target population. The central message is how a broad cross-section of organizations can be brought together in the design of a program and thereby enhance the prospects of its routinization. As the program is designated, "Mr. Lead Spot" approaches education on childhood lead poisoning from the standpoint that the child is the primary beneficiary of whatever information that is necessary for behavior modification. It, therefore, directs the message specifically to children and treats the range of caregivers (parents, teachers, and healthcare providers) as support agents.

The second contribution that this article makes is to introduce this innovative child-friendly program, a program with a design that shows a clear departure from the traditional ways of addressing childhood lead poisoning. To facilitate a fuller appreciation of this process, the nature and scope of the intervention, the theoretical basis for, and a description of the community education program are presented.

Program Description

Mr. Lead Spot

The program in its entirety is a package with specific messages tailored for the various classes of audience. The key component, "Mr. Lead Spot," however, is the intervention for preschoolers themselves. It is an interactive program that utilizes storytelling, puppetry, and music to teach children, aged 2 to 5 years, behaviors that should help them protect themselves against lead poisoning. In the presentation, "Mr. Lead Spot" represents the unfriendly and sick lead poison that can hide in paint chips/flakes on walls and window wells, in the dust that settles on window sills and on carpets or hard floors, and that can get into toys. Specially designed artistic props that serve as visual aids for the children are used to highlight these common sources and pathways of lead poisoning. A puppeteer plays the combined role of "Mr. Lead Spot" and "Yackle De Doo."

"Yackle De Doo" is the innocent 2-year old boy who plays around the house like any child his age and who could become poisoned through the hand-to-mouth actions in which he engages. At the beginning of a presentation, a moderator first sets the scene by asking the children about what they might know about lead poisoning and then "fills in the blanks," stating the basic facts about lead-based paint in homes. After introducing the participants, the moderator tells the story about the boy, "Yackle De Doo," and invites members of the audience (two or three at a time) to come forward and to help teach him about lead poisoning. At all times, the youngsters are encouraged to actively participate in the dialogue with "Yackle De Doo." In the process, the messages "wash your hands after play, wash your hands and face before going to bed, and wash your hands after using the rest room; put only food in your mouth and do not chew on paint; ask Mom to clean your toys" are reinforced.

Familiar nursery rhymes provide the tunes for sing-song sessions that reiterate the handwashing message. …