We’ve made great progress in our second year implementing the Help Me Grow (HMG) model, a system to streamline early screening and intervention services for young children and families.

Screening young children for developmental delays and linking them to effective services provides immediate relief to concerned families and reduces the costs for special education or other services down the road. In California, most developmental concerns are not identified or addressed until children start kindergarten – missed opportunities to begin interventions early.

Contra Costa’s Help Me Grow system is working to change this in four effective ways:

1. Expanding developmental screening services. We continue to train children’s services providers on the effective screening tool, Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). County public health nurses and clinic staff, First 5 Center staff, Head Start sites, home visiting programs, child care sites and other nonprofit organizations are using the ASQ to routinely screen children. Nearly 30% of professionals we trained last year were child care providers, a direct result of California’s Quality Rating and Improvement System which includes screening as a measure of high-quality child care. The First 5 Centers also worked to increase screening efforts, which paid off with 40% more children screened compared to the previous year. In the last year, our funded partners screened nearly 1,800 children. Fifty-one percent were on track with their development and 49% needed assistance for possible developmental concerns.

2. Linking families to needed services. The 211 HMG phone referral service, operated by the Contra Costa Crisis Center, can assess families’ needs, connect them to services, and provide follow-up. All HMG 211 operators receive ongoing training on child development and how to ask callers sensitive information to determine if they have particular child development concerns. Of the 474 callers assisted last year, most lived in East County and about 20 percent were from Richmond. The majority of callers had children under age two. The most common referrals made were for housing and food services, mental health or behavior health services, and the First 5 Centers.

3. Helping children with mild to moderate developmental concerns. Children identified though screening who need a boost to catch up on developmental milestones are referred todevelopmental playgroups. The groups are operated by child development specialists (from Baby Builders and We Care Children’s Services) and take place at the First 5 Centers. Last year, 189 children attended these groups, and nearly three-fourths of parents said their children’s development improved because of their participation.

4. Increasing parent’s awareness about child development and how to find help. Each year we survey parents new to First 5-funded services. One thing we’re seeing is a steady increase in the number of parents with concerns about their child’s development. Last year, 29% of parents had concerns, compared to 2012 when only 17% did. In addition, mothers surveyed from our home visiting programs said that learning about child development (e.g., milestones, stages, etc.) was the most important thing they learned from their home visitor.  We will continue to expand awareness about Help Me Grow and child development in a new public education campaign later this year.

Learn more about Help Me Grow.