“If L.A. County does it, it could and should be done everywhere.”

Delivered by Help Me Grow founder Dr. Paul Dworkin to the First 5 LA Board, those words spoke to the significance of First 5 LA’s collaborative effort to develop Help Me Grow-LA (HMG-LA), a systems-wide approach to developmental screenings of children in the county.

In addition to meeting with First 5 LA’s Board, Dworkin was in Los Angeles in mid-May to discuss the importance of the HMG model, cite examples of success, answer questions and convene with the HMG-LA leadership council and workgroup members.

Neither a program nor a service, Help Me Grow is a system that builds on existing resources to ensure that communities identify vulnerable children with developmental or behavioral challenges and link families to community-based programs and services through the implementation of four Core Components: child health care provider outreach; family and community outreach; a centralized access point; and ongoing data collection and analysis.

Early detection is critical for the 12 to 16 percent of all American children who experience developmental or behavioral problems.

“As many as 45 of 50 states do not serve – i.e., provide early intervention services for – vulnerable children at risk of developmental delays. Only if they manifest delays or disorders,” said Dworkin, who is also executive vice president for Community Child Health at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

In California, research shows that 1 in 4 kids under the age of 6 are at moderate or high-risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delays and less than 1 in 3 receive timely developmental screenings.

“Between 30 to 40 percent of this population will succumb to a delayed trajectory without supports,” Dworkin said.

According to Dworkin, families who have been connected to Help Me Grow have experienced an 80 to 85 percent success rate in linking to community-based support services. See one Help Me Grow parent’s story below.

Prioritizing the need for developmental screenings as part of its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, First 5 LA held a convening in May, 2016 in partnership with L.A. Care Health Plan, L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) California Chapter 2 to introduce the Help Me Grow model to Los Angeles County stakeholders.

At the event, more than 35 organizations representing a diverse range of fields, including early childhood education, health care and developmental services, pledged their support and interest in the development of HMG-LA, either as part of the Leadership Council or as participants in the workgroups that will guide HMG-LA’s development. The Center for Non-Profit Management was selected to facilitate this process.

The HMG-LA Leadership Council began meeting in September, 2016. A total of 30 agencies, representing multiple sectors including health, early care and education, Regional Centers, CBOs and multiple County departments have joined the Leadership Council to serve as an advisory body to guide and inform the development of HMG-LA. In addition to the Leadership Council, four workgroups began meeting in January. Modeled after the four core components of the HMG model, these workgroups are participating in research and other information gathering efforts to shape the recommendations that will be brought back to Leadership Council, and the First 5 LA’s Commission for review. During the next 4 months, the Leadership Council and the workgroups will continue to meet regularly to complete the early design phase of HMG-LA.

“First 5 LA brings credibility, resources, experience and convening capacity to bring all the critical partners together to do this work.” -Dr. Paul Dworkin

Dworkin has seen HMG grow from a pilot in Hartford, Connecticut in 1997 to 52 Help Me Grow systems in states and counties throughout the country, including 14 affiliates in California counties. He expressed excitement about developmental screening being a policy priority of the First 5 Association of California and about the HMG-LA effort, in particular.

“We are so impressed by your commitment to looking at this work in terms of consistent systems building. That is a key and is clearly reflected in your cross sector collaboration,” Dworkin told the Commissioners.

Additionally, Dworkin said, First 5 LA brings “credibility, resources, experience and convening capacity to bring all the critical partners together to do this work.”

Dworkin also noted how each HMG affiliate is unique, with its own challenges, learnings and lessons that can help inform other affiliates and the Help Me Grow National Center that enables and supports the building of HMG systems across the country.

In particular, he pointed to the opportunity to connect parents to Help Me Grow through First 5 LA’s Welcome Baby and Select Home Visiting programs, as well as potential lessons learned in the arena of family engagement, cultural sensitivity and geographic breadth.

“L.A. County is even larger than some states,” Dworkin said. “The L.A. County experience will just be so valuable in terms of informing on the challenges of how we do this on a very large scale when the scale is so daunting and how to best do it in diverse communities.”

Ultimately, Dworkin said that First 5 LA’s ability to move the HMG-LA forward “will inform and inspire what we are able to do nationally.”

First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé told Dworkin that the benefits go both ways.

“It’s exciting how Help Me Grow can contribute to the family systems strengthening that we are committed to at First 5 LA,” she said.

Commissioners also shared their enthusiasm for the Help Me Grow-LA effort.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Commission Alternate Genie Chough, who serves as Assistant Deputy Director of External Relations for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She praised the HMG focus “not to create the latest new shiny program but to create and weave together integration and coordination among existing disparate systems and break down those silos. This really speaks to that all in one program. And I think that’s much harder, but much more rewarding to meet our families where they’re at.”