Paul Dworkin, MD, delivered the following testimony to the Connecticut state legislature’s Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017, urging lawmakers to restore funding for Connecticut’s Help Me Grow® program. Dr. Dworkin also wrote an opinion article on the same topic that was published in the Connecticut Mirror. Dr. Dworkin piloted the developmental screening, identification and early intervention model 20 years ago in Hartford. It has since expanded statewide and around the country though our Help Me Grow National Center’s affiliate network. The Help Me Grow National Center is part of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
My name is Dr. Paul Dworkin and I serve as executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. I am also the founding director of the Help Me Grow® National Center. I respectfully request the restoration of funding for Connecticut’s Help Me Grow program. This restoration need not be done through the Children’s Trust Fund line item, which is recommended for elimination.
Help Me Grow effectively promotes the early detection and connection to community-based services for children from birth to 8 years of age with developmental or behavioral challenges. I led the pilot study of Help Me Grow in Hartford from 1997-2002 that led to its statewide dissemination as a program of the Children’s Trust Fund. Each subsequent biennial budget has sustained Help Me Grow. In addition to consistently fulfilling expectations for results-based accountability, research proves that Help Me Grow strengthens families and promotes children’s optimal healthy development. Our research also demonstrates how the linkage of children and their families to community-based programs and services reduces costs through the process of “de-medicalization.”
The discontinuation of funding for Help Me Grow will mean the elimination of a crucial safety net for vulnerable children who are not eligible for other services, such as Birth to Three, and it will deprive approximately 10,000 Connecticut families each year, from all 169 cities and towns, support to promote and monitor their children’s development, as well as to secure the services they need to address their concerns and issues. I certainly understand that budget imperatives will reduce our state’s capacity to deliver many valued and important services and programs. Unfortunately, my concerns for Help Me Grow extend beyond a critical reduction in services and supports.
Help Me Grow has become a national model for early childhood systems promoting children’s healthy development. The Help Me Grow National Center, based in Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, is now providing technical assistance to 28 states that are replicating this initiative. The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have issued a joint policy statement in which they specifically cite Help Me Grow as a system that helps to build collaboration across sectors, including health care, early care and education, and family support. The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Freiden, has described Help Me Grow as “an inspiration.” Indeed, the success of Help Me Grow has enhanced our state’s reputation and stature as a leader in early childhood system building and support for young children and their families. The loss of support for Help Me Grow will send the wrong message as to our commitment to promoting the healthy development of our youngest citizens.
Loss of funding for Help Me Grow will also create unintended consequences for other state initiatives serving children and families. Help Me Grow is the framework for Connecticut’s early childhood development system and serves as the statewide vehicle for multiple service delivery strategies. Loss of support for Help Me Grow will imperil the effectiveness of many other state programs, including but not limited to home visiting, Learn the Signs. Act Early., Project LAUNCH, developmental screening with the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Help Me Grow is essential to ensure that these diverse programs, services, and sectors (e.g., child health, early care and education, and family support) are successfully and efficiently blended and braided to achieve maximum benefit.
While the annual cost of Help Me Grow is relatively modest at $223,500, its impact is great. In addition to its linkage of children and families to programs and services, it serves as the “glue” holding together our early childhood system of services and programs. The loss of Help Me Grow will harm our children and families, and create collateral damage to our system. The impact of this loss will reverberate across the nation. Please reinstate support for Help Me Grow so that Connecticut may continue to ensure the healthy development of our children, provide support for our vulnerable families, and continue to serve as a role model and inspiration for the country.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Paul H. Dworkin