Cutting Help Me Grow program will inflict collateral damage

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In his proposed budget, Gov. Dannel Malloy has targeted Help Me Grow, a program of Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood, for elimination.  The mandated reconciliation of the state budget deficit creates, by necessity, a painful dilemma akin to Hobson’s choice. However, certain decisions provoke unintended collateral damage.  Such is the case with Help Me Grow.

Help Me Grow promotes the early detection of children from birth to eight years who are vulnerable to developmental and behavioral problems and the connection of these children and their families to community-based services such as parenting programs, home visiting, and family resource centers.

I led the pilot study in Hartford from 1997-2002 that led to the statewide dissemination of Help Me Grow as a program of the Connecticut Children’s Trust Fund.  Each subsequent biennial budget has sustained support for Help Me Grow. In addition to consistently fulfilling the state’s expectations for Results-Based Accountability, research proves that Help Me Grow strengthens families and promotes children’s optimal healthy development.  Research also demonstrates how the linkage of children and their families to community-based programs and services reduces the expense of unnecessary medical referrals.

The discontinuation of funding for Help Me Grow will mean the elimination of a crucial safety net for vulnerable children who are not eligible for more intensive services such as Birth to Three.  It will deprive more than 10,000 Connecticut families each year, from all 169 cities and towns, support to promote and monitor their children’s development, as well as to secure the services they need to address their concerns. I certainly understand that budget imperatives will reduce our state’s capacity to deliver many valued and important programs.

Unfortunately, the impact of elimination of Help Me Grow extends beyond a critical reduction in services and supports.

Help Me Grow has become a national model for states’ efforts to promote their children’s healthy development. The Help Me Grow National Center, based in the Office for Community Child Health at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, is now providing technical assistance to 28 states that are replicating this initiative.  The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have recently issued a joint policy statement in which they specifically cite Help Me Grow as a system that helps to build collaboration across sectors, including health care, early care and education, and family support.

The former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has described Help Me Grow as “an inspiration.” Indeed, the success of Help Me Grow has enhanced our state’s reputation and stature as a leader in early childhood system building and support for young children and their families. The loss of support for Help Me Grow will send the wrong message as to our commitment to promoting the healthy development of our youngest citizens.

Loss of funding for Help Me Grow will also create unintended consequences for other state initiatives serving children and families. Help Me Grow is the framework for Connecticut’s early childhood development system and serves as the statewide vehicle for multiple service delivery strategies.  Loss of support for Help Me Grow will imperil the effectiveness of many other state programs, such as home visiting, early intervention for children with disabilities, and care coordination for children with medical conditions.  Help Me Grow is essential to ensure that these diverse programs and services are successfully and efficiently blended and braided to achieve maximum benefit.

While the annual cost of Help Me Grow is relatively modest at $223,500, its impact is great. In addition to its linkage of children and families to programs and services, it serves as the “glue” holding together our early childhood system of supports.  The loss of Help Me Grow will harm our children and families, and create collateral damage to our system.  Given our leadership role, the impact of this loss will reverberate across the nation.

Support for Help Me Grow is critical so that Connecticut may ensure the healthy development of our children, provide support for our vulnerable families, and continue to serve as a role model and inspiration for the country.

Dr. Paul Dworkin is Executive Vice President for Community Child Health at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center/ West Hartford.

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