Child Development

Building Systems to Strengthen Children

By: Erin Cornell, MPH

People often ask us, “What do you mean by ‘system-building?’” It’s a tough concept to explain. Maybe an example of our work with Mid-Level Developmental Assessment would help.

As part of our efforts at the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health to promote optimal healthy development, one of our programs, Mid-Level Developmental Assessment (MLDA), is expanding to reach a greater number of at-risk children.

Three new agencies are just receiving their first referrals for children affected by mild to moderate behavioral or developmental concerns. Those early intervention agencies are Rehabilitation Associates of Connecticut, Inc., Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, and Children’s Therapy Services.

They join The Village for Families and Children, a Hartford-based behavioral health agency, in embracing this new approach to assessing children.

This is something the three new agencies have worked towards for months.

They attended an intensive two-day training late last year in Hartford that was hosted by The Village and the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health. Agencies from Vermont and California that are looking to add MLDA into their existing portfolios of services also participated.

During the training, they learned how to conduct family interviews and child assessments, how to formulate recommendation plans, and which children can be referred to community based programs and services.

MLDA addresses a gap in our child health system.

Prior to its development, there was a lack of assessment options for children with mild to moderate concerns. Typically, such children do not qualify for publicly funded early intervention programs. Because they were not linking to beneficial programs, their problems were left to escalate.

Here is where system-building steps in.

The Village set out to fill this critical community health gap by developing a program to provide a cost-effective and timely assessment option to families and connect them with existing programs and services offered in different sectors of the existing child serving system.

The approach was successful.

Now, in Connecticut, MLDA is becoming available to greater numbers of children ages 6 months to 6 years old. Once the assessment is complete, families are referred to the state’s 211 Child Development Infoline where they are linked to beneficial programs and services offered through Help Me Grow®, a program developed by Connecticut Children’s Medical Center that is dedicated to detecting concerns early and linking families to services.

Besides its statewide expansion, MLDA is also being replicated in other states through the support of the Help Me Grow® National Center, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Through their use of MLDA, the three new assessment sites now have a new tool to use as they continue making positive impacts on the lives of children.

As a result of the training process, they also have a new understanding of the important role they play in the “system” that supports the healthy development of children. That’s the sort of system building we like to see.

The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, a partner of the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, assisted The Village in developing MLDA, and also provided funding for its pilot in 2009. The statewide MLDA expansion efforts are supported by a grant from the LEGO Community Fund US.

Erin Cornell, MPH, is the program manager for research, innovation & evaluation for the Help Me Grow® National Center.

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