AAP Honors Szilagyi for Commitment to Children in Foster Care

October 22, 2007

Szilagyi is medical director at Starlight Pediatrics, a specialty-clinic dedicated to the health of children and adolescents in foster care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Community Pediatrics will name University of Rochester associate professor of Pediatrics Moira Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., the second recipient of the Calvin C. J. Sia Community Pediatrics Medical Home Leadership and Advocacy Award, at a special luncheon Sunday, Oct. 28.

The award, to be presented at the AAP’s National Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco, recognizes a pediatrician who has demonstrated clinical excellence, community action and advocacy for children with unique care needs.

Szilagyi will be honored for her work as medical director at Starlight Pediatrics, a specialty-clinic based at the Monroe County Department of Health and exclusively dedicated to the health of children and adolescents in foster care system.

Of the nearly 34,000 New York state children in foster care, Starlight serves nearly 1,000 patients, who together make 3,600 visits annually.

Szilagyi began at the clinic in 1986, moonlighting during her residency at what is now Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong; in 1990, she signed on in her current role as medical director and, with only a shoe-string budget, she and her staff of a dozen transformed the fledgling clinic into a national model for foster care pediatric services.

The clinic is an anchor of hope for children and teens in the system. Regardless of how many times they might switch placements, they can take comfort in seeing the same faces at Starlight – specialists versed in the intricacies of the foster care, a micro-culture fraught with separation, loss and uncertainty for children and families, Szilagyi said. 

“Aside from the strain of instability itself, anxiety and stress can have an adverse impact on children’s physical health,” she said. “So, while minding all this, the specialists here must support foster parents in nurturing each child’s unique personality and temperament, and also help these children navigate transitions through new schools, new childcare settings and the court process as comfortably as possible.”

Szilagyi says the award is shared with her staff, who daily display an exceptional brand of cultural competence. She says they maintain a keen awareness of and appreciation for the diverse backgrounds, beliefs and stories belonging to each of their patients, some of whom are unaccompanied refugees from Africa, Eastern European countries, Russia and Haiti.

“While I deeply appreciate this award, it is one that also belongs to so many others,” she said. “I share it with the Starlight staff, who remained steadfast and dedicated to high quality health care for children in foster care despite many challenges during our formative years. It belongs also to my colleagues in various other professional disciplines – child welfare, mental health, family court – and especially to foster parents, who dedicate their lives to championing these children.”

One of Szilagyi’s special interests is finding ways to support children who have recently aged-out of the system (in New York, this occurs at 21, in many other states, at 18) but may still need the guidance of an adult in their transition to adulthood. She is organizing a committee (composed of professionals from the Department of Human Services, pediatrics and mental health) to explore solutions, such as support groups and mentor-matching systems, for young adults preparing for independent living.

Szilagyi is a member of the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, for which she presently serves as vice-chair of both the Healthy Foster Care America program and the Task Force on Foster Care.

She is married to Peter Szilagyi, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the division of General Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They are the proud parents of two young adults and reside in Mendon.

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