This spring, the Office of Early Childhood is launching a new Help Me Grow Campaign to promote awareness of the importance of universal developmental screening of young children, while linking at-risk children to supports and services. To achieve universal screening, we need to reach children wherever they are, including their homes, doctor’s offices, and both center-based and home-based child care programs. At All Our Kin, we are excited about the potential to support family child care providers as they help the children they serve access programs and services that, at an early age, can lay the foundation for later success. The first step to achieving this is early screening.
Last fall, Connecticut’s Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI) released a report on the importance of early screening and intervention entitled “The Earlier the Better: Developmental Screening for Connecticut’s Young Children.” The authors described several of the most commonly reported delays for children under the age of three, including language delays, learning disabilities, attention disorders, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum, and cognitive delays. Children who grow up in poverty are at greater risk of learning disabilities and developmental delays, the report noted. The inability to identify developmental delays at an early age has harmful lifelong consequences for children. According to the report’s authors, “The value of providing services and supports to children with signs of early delay and their families cannot be over-emphasized; it pays off many times over in school performance and life outcomes.”
Connecticut has many resources for supporting young children with developmental delays or disabilities, including our Birth to Three system, which provides early intervention services to children under the age of three with delays and disabilities. According to CHDI’s report, close to 4 percent of Connecticut’s children under age 3 receive Birth to Three services. Children who are not eligible for Birth to Three can access a range of supports through community-based development programs or programs such as Early Head Start or Head Start. Parents can call Help Me Grow at 800-505-7000 to get help in finding these supports and services in their communities.
Unfortunately, not all children who need such services and supports currently access them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 13 percent of children ages 3 to 17 have some form of developmental or behavioral disability, but fewer than half of these children’s delays are detected prior to kindergarten entry. CDHI’s report suggests that just 30 percent of children have their delays identified before entering school.
Connecticut’s Help Me Grow Campaign is designed to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and to ensure that children who need services are identified and referred to these essential supports. Throughout April, May, and June, communities across the state will host conversations on child development and registration events where families can sign up to receive screening tools. In Norwalk, the Family & Children’s Agency will hold several community conversations as well as a registration event for families on May 10 (their website has a full schedule of events). Bridgeport is organizing a Children’s Fair on April 25 (see detailed flyer here). A total of 13 towns are participating in the campaign.
Here at All Our Kin, our goal is for the dedicated and talented family child care providers we work with to be informed and engaged in this community-wide effort. Our providers work closely with parents in low-income communities and serve as trusted advisors to families. With training and resources, our providers will be better able to recognize the needs of both children and parents and refer families to support services. We are thrilled that many of our community partners working on the Help Me Grow campaign recognize the value of engaging with family child care providers and have reached out to us about offering our providers training and information to share with families. We are also pleased to be represented on the Office of Early Childhood’s Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Advisory Committee, which is working to create a unified system of screening and referral for the state.
We know the huge difference that early detection can make in a child’s life. We also know that universal screening will only result from collaborations between all adults who have contact with children, including parents, pediatricians, child care providers, and other community members. Our providers reach families and children that are often marginalized and disconnected from resources. We at All Our Kin are confident that our incredible providers have the potential to support the success of the Help Me Grow campaign and connect vulnerable children to the services that will help them thrive.
Pavita Singh is a graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health and an intern at All Our Kin.