New Policy Brief Suggests Ways to Improve State EII System, Looks to Help Me Grow

By Alexandra Parma

Senior Policy Research Associate, First 5 Center for Children's Policy

“You cannot make a screaming 18-month-old sit in front of the phone so his therapist can play with him,” notes Michelle Rogers, executive director of the Early Learning Institute, a nonprofit organization in Sonoma County. Rogers’s organization conducts early intervention visits for children under three years old who have speech or other developmental delays.

Her work is important – it helps toddlers with identified delays reach their optimal development. To get families connected to services like these, a doctor or other professional should do regular screening of infants and toddlers to identify any delays, and then refer them to an organization like Rogers’.

But finding children who need these services, and then providing them, is harder than ever in a world in which parents and children are often afraid to visit the doctor’s office. Even before the current COVID-19 public health emergency, many children in California weren’t screened for developmental delays in a timely manner. When delays were detected, families and providers often experienced challenges identifying the right intervention among the multiple entities that provide developmental supports for kids.

Today the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy is releasing a new policy brief that describes county systems that improve identification and linkage. “California’s Early Identification and Intervention System and the Role of Help Me Grow” discusses the early identification and intervention (EII) system in CA and how county First 5s have contributed to it over the past 15 years through the implementation of Help Me Grow (HMG). HMG is a national model designed to improve developmental screening rates; educate parents about developmental milestones; and link children to services as quickly and efficiently as possible. The paper outlines how HMGs in California have designed new approaches to address parent and provider needs, and innovated ways to strengthen connections between systems in their counties.

Despite their success, the supports that HMGs provide are not universal across the state. Thirty counties are in various stages of HMG implementation. Features of each county’s model depend on local relationships and funding, which results in different levels of assistance for families depending on the county they live in. The paper highlights the role the state can play in reducing this variation and further strengthening the EII system. These recommendations are based on key lessons elevated by HMG leaders in Alameda, Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Francisco, Shasta, Ventura, and Yolo counties.

Now more than ever, it is critical to ensure systems are coordinated to effectively support families when they have concerns about their child. “California’s Early Identification and Intervention System and the Role of Help Me Grow” is a resource for both policymakers interested in improving EII systems statewide, and stakeholders interested in examples of local innovation.

Click here to read the full policy brief.

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