Years ago, First 5 LA Commissioner Cynthia Harding said reaching out for help about her child’s development left her feeling confused and helpless.

“The pediatrician said I shouldn’t get her screened, because she would just get labeled,” noted Harding, who is also the interim director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH). “My daughter was later diagnosed with ADHD. Had I known to enroll her in early intervention services, she might have had much better outcomes earlier in her life.

Harding shared her story in front of more than 100 attendees at the Help Me Grow–LA Launch, an event on May 20 to help bridge the gap when it comes to providing developmental screening services for young children in Los Angeles County.

Research shows that 1 in 4 California 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.

“The pediatrician said I shouldn’t get her screened, because she would just get labeled” – Cynthia Harding

Sparked by the national success of an innovative systems change framework called Help Me Grow (HMG), First 5 LA – along with partners L.A. Care Health Plan, DPH and the American Academy of Pediatrics – California Chapter 2 – made the case at the May event to professionals in the fields of early childhood education and healthcare – as well as representatives from Regional Centers – about why this initiative should be supported and implemented in L.A. County.

First 5 LA’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2020 makes developmental screening one if its top priorities for improving health-related systems in Los Angeles County. The organization also currently funds a program to increase the capacity of health and community-based providers to provide high quality and culturally competent developmental screening called Early Identification and Intervention – Autism and other Developmental Delays, or EII.

The foundation of Help Me Grow is simple – helping parents and providers alike identify children at risk of developmental delays and get connected with early intervention services. Yet it is a tough challenge in L.A. County.

Whit Hayslip, the event’s Emcee and former Los Angeles Unified School District Assistant Superintendent for Early Childhood Education, shed a light on the disconnection between like-minded organizations.

“The size of L.A. makes it difficult and it’s about the hubs (for services), as these are places we can use in more cohesive ways,” said Hayslip. “Thinking about how we can recognize the community aspect within this planning is going to be critical.”

L.A. Care Health Plan CEO John Baackes pointed out that many children are not screened early enough “and when needs are identified, parents find it difficult to connect with the services that often are available in their very own community.”

A panel of experts agreed that helping First 5 LA implement the Help Me Grow-LA (HMG-LA) initiative will dramatically change and improve developmental outcomes for L.A. County’s young children.

“Pediatricians want to provide care. They just need help,” said Dr. Ed Curry, pediatrician and incoming President of the American Academy of Pediatrics – California Chapter 2. “That’s what I love about HMG – it provides a way to connect. The connection is the key.”

First 5 LA Vice President of Programs Christina Altmayer advocated for the importance of reaching out to providers. “We need to help them understand the value and importance of evidence-based developmental screening and to reassure that there is support for them.”

Building collaboration across different sectors was on the mind of panelist Terri Delgadillo, the former director of the California Department of Developmental Services.

“Difficult economic times a few years back left resources strained, but now it’s changing,” noted Delgadillo. “It’s about understanding what one can and can’t do.”

At the end of the event, First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé made a call to action: “Let’s challenge ourselves to make L.A. County a model for implementing developmental screening and early intervention services in the nation.”

More than 35 organizations responded to Belshé’s challenge, submitting interest in playing a part in the development of HMG-LA. Next steps will include the creation of a Help Me Grow Leadership Council and workgroups, with the anticipation of seed funding opportunities to be announced in early 2017.

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