CYSHCNet brings academic researchers and lived experience partners together to study the health care system issues that matter most to CYSHCN and their families.

The following definitions guide our work:

Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs, or CYSHCN

Approximately 1/5 of all kids in the U.S. have a special health care need. A CYSHCN may be medically-complex, meaning many areas of life are impacted, possibly over the child’s lifetime. Or, they may have a single diagnosis that temporarily impacts the child and family. And everything in between and beyond. 

A common theme in a CYSHCN’s life is that their needs require systems to work together. For example, a social worker in an ear, nose, and throat clinic might collaborate with a school audiologist to make classroom accommodations for a kindergartner with temporary hearing loss. 

Another example might be a college freshman with a rare disease. Because of medical advances, she’s outlived her “childhood” illness. Now she needs to find an “adult” care team, even though they likely haven’t heard of her condition since medical school.

Academic Researchers

These are the MDs, PhDs, MPHs, RNs, PAs, DOs, students, etc. whose job is to advance what we know about their areas of study. For CYSHCNet, these are researchers who look at the health care system and how it impacts life for CYSHCN and their families. Our researchers are working together at 18 academic institutions across the U.S. The work is funded by a cooperative agreement from the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB).  

Families and Caregivers

The people who care for CYSHCN continue to inform our research in incredible ways. They help us ask better questions and let us know when we’re asking the wrong questions. They inform all areas of our work–even the definition of “family.” The people who love, care for, and support CYSHCN are vast. It’s not as simple as including parents only. It’s also spouses, siblings, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s neighbors, friends, teachers, and other parents of CYSHCN. They love their CYSHCN and provide the type of care many of us might think should only happen in a hospital. We continue to learn more about the level of care they provide at home. Our group is working to understand so we can help support caregivers in the areas we can influence, such as care coordination, financing—even health care policy.

Lived Experience Partners

This group is made up of families, caregivers, and anyone involved in the care of CYSHCN and CYSHCN themselves. Hypothesizing in our clinics and offices won’t get us where we need to be. The lived experiences of CYSHCN and the people who love them should be our guide in any study we embark upon.

Interested in participating?


We asked them. 800 stakeholders shared their thoughts and opinions. We used a reliable method, called the UCLA/Rand Appropriateness Method, to extract the data that now informs a National Research Agenda. The families, caregivers, providers, and other stakeholders we surveyed told us that these areas were most important. This includes:

  • Child health, including social determinants of health
  • Family health
  • Caregiving for CYSHCN
  • Care models
  • Health care financing
  • Youth-adult transitions


We help CYSHCN and their families by advancing knowledge and implementation of optimal health systems through innovative, rigorous multi-site studies, far reaching dissemination of findings, meaningful partnerships with families, and strong training of emerging CYSHCN investigators.


Our vision is to be the pre-eminent engine for creating and promoting excellence in national CYSHCN research, bringing expert investigators together with family leaders and young investigators, to improve the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of CYSHCN and their families.

National Research Agenda

Below is a video abstract by Dr. Ryan Coller, who highlights the rationale behind the creation of the National Research Agenda, the process behind defining key priority research areas and a summary of the six suggested sub-topics for future research.

An important part of our work is dedicated to supporting the next generation of CYSHCN health systems researchers, and all of our work includes families and youth as partners in each

Chris Stille MD, MPH
Director, CYSHCNet
“Working in health care day-to-day, you can’t help but think ‘there must be a better way.’ I love that the CYSHCNet network is getting out there and trying to think about a better way to do it.”

Katie Freudlich, MD
Why She Works with CYSHCNet