The diagnosis came when Isabel’s daughter was just 33 months old. Autism. The family was shocked. They wondered how they missed the signs. They did not know where to turn for help.
Isabel immediately contacted her pediatrician who referred her to their local Help Me Grow affiliate, Help Me Grow Orange County, California. Care coordinators connected her with the state’s early intervention providers, contacted the school district on the family’s behalf to ensure appropriate pre-school services, and connected them to other supports.
“Help Me Grow was extremely helpful to our family. They provided us with all the tools we needed to face this part of our lives in the most successful way possible,” said Isabel.
The Need for Help Me Grow
Families often struggle to get the services they need for their children, regardless of whether they have diagnosable conditions or are at risk for developing delays or disorders. Services that can help children and families too often operate in isolation, with busy parents and physicians unable to devote the time needed to track down appropriate community-based supports.
The Help Me Grow model bridges that gap. A new report, Building Impact: 2017 Annual Report, details the extensive reach of the developmental promotion initiative, which was developed by Paul H. Dworkin, MD as a pilot program in Hartford in 1997 and expanded throughout Connecticut in 2002. Now, it is operating in an impressive 28 states around the country through an affiliate network that receives technical assistance and support from the Help Me Grow National Center, which is part of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.
Building Impact marks the first time the Help Me Grow National Center has collected, synthesized, and published data from Help Me Grow systems across the country, and serves to raise awareness about the progress of, and potential future directions for, an affiliate network aimed at strengthening children and families.
In 2017, the Help Me Grow affiliate network collectively served more than 81,000 children and families through centralized access points. During such encounters, Help Me Grow care coordinators provided information to families in response to their questions or referred them to a wide variety of early childhood supports and services capable of addressing developmental and behavioral concerns as early as possible.
In addition, in 2017, Help Me Grow affiliates reached more than 150,000 families through targeted outreach events, such as community events for partners and families; media campaigns targeted toward underserved populations; and through building partnerships with rural outreach agencies, refugee, immigrant, and migrant organizations.
The Help Me Grow model is also contingent on engaging relevant early childhood services and sectors, by training both child health providers and early childhood professionals on developmental surveillance and screening and how they can utilize Help Me Grow to link families to existing community-based supports and follow up to ensure they connected to, and were satisfied with, such services.
The Help Me Grow Model
The Help Me Grow system model is based on four core components: a centralized access point, family & community outreach, child health provider outreach, and data collection & analysis.
The Centralized Access Point is typically a call center that serves as a single point of entry for families, child health providers, and other professionals seeking information, support, and referrals for children. Help Me Grow affiliates utilize a variety of options for call centers, such as 211, state or county departments, community or family resource centers, school districts, and hospitals. Each centralized access point employs Help Me Grow-trained care coordinators who answer questions about developmental or behavioral concerns, help families understand typical developmental milestones, provide referrals to community-based programs and services, and also follow up with families to ensure they connected to recommended supports and that those supports are meeting their needs.
For example, Help Me Grow Alameda County, California care coordinators primarily follow up with families through telephone and email, however they are also exploring the use of text messaging. Typically, care coordinators follow up with families until they ensure services have been received. If direct follow up attempts with families are not successful, care coordinators can reach out to providers who referred the family to Help Me Grow to ensure contact information is accurate. On a case by case basis, they can also reach out to an agency to which the family was referred to determine if service linkage is progressing as intended.
The Family & Community Outreach component promotes awareness of Help Me Grow; facilitates networking among various child health, family health, community-based service providers and families; and engages families to best position them to promote their children’s optimal healthy development. Help Me Grow affiliate outreach staff hold community meetings, forums, public events, and fairs to educate families about child development and the role Help Me Grow can play in helping their children reach their fullest developmental potential. During such events, staff are able to build and maintain relationships with community-based service providers to which families can be referred for help.
For example, the Books, Balls, and Blocks model provides a fun and educational way for children to participate in a variety of play-based activities that promote child development in early literacy, fine motor skills, and other areas. While children play at such events, community providers teach families how to monitor developmental milestones and how to access supports if concerns arise. Many Books, Balls, and Blocks events also offer direct developmental screening to families. The model was created by Help Me Grow Utah and has since expanded to Help Me Grow Connecticut and other affiliates.
The Child Health Care Provider Outreach component works to enhance the capacity of child health providers to engage in developmental promotion and early identification of developmentally vulnerable children. This is an ideal area for Help Me Grow to focus on since child health providers encounter nearly all children through recommended well visits. Help Me Grow affiliates provide office-based trainings for physicians; motivate them to monitor and screen young children for potential developmental concerns; and ensure such providers understand how Help Me Grow centralized access points can serve as a care coordination extension for their busy practices. Affiliates are encouraged to identify at least one physician champion, who can engage with other medical providers about the value of Help Me Grow.
While most Help Me Grow affiliates conduct physician outreach on their own, some have identified a local or state-level partner to conduct physician outreach on their behalf. For example, in Connecticut, Help Me Grow physician outreach is led by the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, which provides office-based training for physician practices regarding developmental surveillance and screening, as well as training on how to utilize Help Me Grow to assist their families.
The Data Collection & Analysis component encourages Help Me Grow affiliates to collect data on common indicators for the other three core components as a way to continually strengthen their work and strengthen the Help Me Grow model to improve child-serving systems. This data allows the Help Me Grow National Center to assess the impact of the model on children and families around the country. Help Me Grow affiliates either collect their data internally or work with outside consultants for their evaluation support.
For example, Help Me Grow Orange County, California improved the rate of children eligible for early intervention services by implementing a direct referral process to the Regional Center of Orange County, an early intervention services provider, rather than simply providing the center’s contact information to family members. Help Me Grow Orange County maintains contact with the Regional Center to determine the outcome for each child its care coordinators refer there. In FY 2017, 75 percent of all children referred by Help Me Grow Orange County were determined to be eligible for Regional Center services.
In another example, Help Me Grow South Carolina used data from a quality improvement project to identify a need to improve how information on available community resources is managed and updated. Their existing directory included many resources with missing details or out of date information, which served as a barrier for care coordinators in connecting families to appropriate programs and services. The affiliate launched a new centralized database to house such information and assigned a dedicated team to maintain it, which decreased the need for care coordinators to continually seek out missing information on their own. Now, the Help Me Grow South Carolina call center maintains current information on all community resources in its database, including hours of operation, fees, locations, eligibility requirements, and language capacities.
The Help Me Grow Difference
The interaction Help Me Grow affiliates are having with children and families across the country is encouraging. Survey results indicate 82 percent of families that engaged with Help Me Grow centralized access points across the country in 2017 reported that their needs were met, according to data from affiliates reporting this measure.
Help Me Grow Orange County, California helped Isabel connect with early intervention services for her daughter. She now encourages other families to seek out Help Me Grow for support.
“Help Me Grow will not only provide you with the tools you need to help your child, but will also comfort and empower you during this difficult time,” she stated.
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