It was so inspiring to look out over the crowd gathered at our recent care coordination forum and realize that we were all there for the same reason: to find better ways to improve the ability of children and their families to access and secure much needed medical, developmental, behavioral, and social services.
Our forum, titled “Building Networks, Building Stronger Families” was generously sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Public Health and attracted 150 physicians, nurses, social workers, and others from all around the state. It included a video message from U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) on the importance of using care coordination to bridge existing gaps between child-serving systems in different sectors. It also featured our dynamic keynote speaker, Kenya Rutland, a consultant who re-energized participants with his speech, “Get Enthused! Make It Happen” by encouraging them to work with power, purpose and passion.
Our featured speakers included Paul Dworkin, MD, the executive vice president of community child health at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office). Dr. Dworkin told participants that care coordination is critical in promoting children’s optimal healthy development. “All paths lead to care coordination,” said Dr. Dworkin, who also pointed out the critical need to engage all sectors impacting children’s healthy development, rather than solely focusing on child health services, which research has proven accounts for just ten percent of one’s overall health outcomes.
During his presentation, Dr. Dworkin showed a slide representing the 150 organizations the Office, or one of its programs, partners with. “Can you imagine families attempting to navigate this? Care coordination is critical,” said Dr. Dworkin.
During our first general session, we were thrilled to have Sarah Dudzic from Move Up! present the latest information on the state’s innovative Two Generation pilot program to enhance school readiness and workforce development. The Connecticut legislature passed the first Two Generation legislation in the country in 2015 which paved the way for pilot programs in six Connecticut communities: Greater Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Meriden, Colchester and Norwalk. The hope is to eventually bring the program to scale around the state. The pilot programs are focused on early learning, adult education, child care, housing, job training, transportation, financial literacy, among other related support services. “We are trying to relieve the burden of coordinating services from the family and put it on the programs,” said Dudzic. “This work isn’t something we need to do ourselves. No one organization needs to do this alone.”
One of the parents who participated in the Greater Hartford Two Generation pilot program is Veronica Rosario, a resident of East Hartford, who has also worked extensively with Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination. Rosario shared with participants how her husband passed away three years ago and that her youngest son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy one year later. As Rosario described it, they were living an ideal life when everything was taken away. After the diagnosis, the family relocated to East Hartford and turned to Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination for help connecting to doctors and other services. “They opened their doors for me and opened their hearts,” said Rosario. “Sometimes you don’t know where to go. There are so many services and resources, but how do we get to them?”
Our second general session focused on strengthening families through boosting five protective factors proven to enhance health outcomes. Allison Matthews-Wilson and Katherine Ramirez, both of Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination, presented information on the training they are now providing to community organizations to build protective factors in the families they work with. The training is based on the Strengthening Families Framework™, which was developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. The framework enhances protective factors in five areas: boosting parental resilience, building parents’ social connections, enhancing knowledge of parenting and child development, providing families with concrete support in times of need, and increasing the social and emotional competence of children.
Our forum also had six breakout sessions including one presented by Mark Barden of Sandy Hook Promise, which focused on the critical need for providers, communities, and schools to work together to address mental health concerns before they escalate. Barden recalled the tragic events of December 14, 2012, in which a shooter took the lives of his 7-year-old son Daniel, 19 other first grade students, and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. “Gun violence is preventable if you know the signs,” said Barden.
Sandy Hook Promise has developed training programs designed to educate people about preventing gun violence that are being incorporated in communities and schools across the country. Those programs include Say Something, which teaches children to recognize signs on social media of someone who may pose a threat to themselves or others, and Start With Hello, which encourages children to be more socially inclusive. “People give off signs and signals and if we know how to read them we can prevent it from happening,” said Barden. “It’s too late for my family and our little Daniel, but it’s not too late for other families.”
We convened the forum to further our belief that children and their families deserve access to medical, developmental, and mental/behavioral health services. We also believe children and families should receive appropriate, effective, and timely community services and resources. We believe in empowering families to advocate for their children. We also believe we can make a difference by supporting and endorsing policies that benefit children and families in Connecticut. We must all work together to make it happen and strengthening care coordination efforts provides a path to do that.
Susan Roman, RN, MPH, is the program director for Connecticut Children’s Center for Care Coordination.