- Information is the key to securing support for and nurturing developmental programs.
- Strategies to support developmental programs include program development, evaluation, quality assurance, and communication.
- Broad-based, public-private partnerships are necessary to develop comprehensive services for children and their families.
- Trust and Prevention Funds focus on community-based family resource and support programs.
We have all heard that the way to get to Carnegie Hall is "practice, practice, and more practice!" If there were a similar refrain for making developmental programs a priority for the state, it would be… "information, information, and more information!" We are fortunate in Connecticut to have leaders in state government who are concerned about children and who are continuously looking for new ways to prevent and solve their problems. Policy makers are open to information. They want answers to questions that can help inform their decisions. They want to better understand how and why things go wrong for children and what can be done to address them. They are looking for cost effective programs that will make a difference in the lives of children and their families. They want programs that produce results, build on what is already working, and make a meaningful difference.
Addressing the developmental needs of children is a complex task. In order for information to be useful and credible to policy makers, it must be clear and well focused. Fragmented information - for example, a research finding without a concrete method for applying it - is more likely to sit on the "back burner" than a concrete proposal. The program development, evaluation, and advocacy efforts need to be well coordinated.
Strategies to advance developmental programs and services should include:
- Program development-efforts over time to build an effective program;
- Evaluation-rigorous research that measure the process and outcomes;
- Quality assurance-application of the research findings to program development; and
- Communications-reports and documentation on the need for the service and the results.
Advancing an agenda of programs for children requires a commitment from many quarters - individual parents and caregivers, community agencies, child health care providers, and others. The coordination and involvement of these groups in all aspects of the process is key to garnering state support for these efforts.
Over the past few years, policy makers in Connecticut have taken note of the growing strains on our state systems that serve children. They have seen that the resources of the courts, the Department of Children and Families, our schools, and other agencies are stretched beyond the limits in attempting to deal with the wide variety of issues facing children and families. They have seen more and more resources and more and more funding being directed to addressing children and families in crisis. This has led many policy makers to ask if more can be done to avoid these problems. They have been asking if an investment in prevention and the positive development of children might help keep more children and families from becoming involved with the courts or child welfare agencies and help more children succeed in school. They have asked if an investment in prevention might actually be more cost effective by heading off problems before they develop.
The search for this type of solution focused new attention on the Connecticut Children's Trust Fund. The Trust Fund developed a reputation for providing thoughtful and objective research and information to policy makers grappling with these issues. It had also developed a reputation for the effective development and implementation of programs that focused on stronger families and child development. As a result, the Trust Fund was given additional resources and responsibilities for a number of programs focused on preventing abuse and neglect and on ensuring the healthy development of Connecticut's children. Help Me Grow was one of these programs.
THE CONNECTICUT CHILDREN'S TRUST FUND
Recognizing the need to fund and develop programs that would reach families and children before a crisis occurred and costly state intervention was needed, the Connecticut General Assembly created the Children's Trust Fund. This proactive initiative was a part of a federal movement began to establish such Trust and Prevention Funds in all 50 states. The Trust Fund began as an advisory Council to the Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families in 1983. However, several years ago, both the Trust Fund and the Commissioner recognized that in order to advance its work, the Trust Fund needed to include other state agencies and additional partners on its council and that the council needed to function independently from the Department. Consequently, legislation was introduced that established the Children's Trust Fund as a separate and independent state agency. The legislation was passed and signed into law in 1997.
Under this new legislation, the Children's Trust Fund Council grew to include the Commissioners from four state departments, Public Health, Social Services, and Education, along with Children and Families. The Council expanded to include experts on children's issues and health, as well as representatives from business and the community at large. The Children's Trust Fund Council came to represent a broad-based, public-private partnership committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and the well being of children. By linking state agencies, parents, the business and service community, the Council is in a unique position to direct the statewide network of community based, prevention focused, family resource and support programs.
The mission of the Children's Trust Fund is to prevent child abuse and neglect and ensure the positive growth and development of children. This mission led us to researching and finding the most productive methods for working with parents at-risk of harming their children and for helping children have a chance for a better life. The Trust Fund is engaged in program development, research, and planning - all in the area of prevention services. The programs of the Trust Fund move theory into practice, apply research to program design, and, when appropriate, work to change public policy.
The Children's Trust Fund approach is collaborative in nature. The Trust Fund has launched numerous joint ventures with several state agencies, hospitals, clinics, schools, and a range of community service organizations. The Trust Fund's efforts actively engage parents in all aspects of this work.
The mission has also led the Trust Fund to developing strategies to raise needed funds to implement its efforts. The funding available to the Children's Trust Fund has grown from less than one million dollars in 1997 to roughly eight million today. The funds appropriated to the Children's Trust Fund are used to support community efforts to help parents address struggles in their own lives and to address the needs of their children. These community programs are designed to help families before small difficulties grow into serious problems that threaten the child's future and well-being, - to actually keep abuse and neglect from happening.
The Trust Fund is committed to offering a valued and quality program. The Children's Trust Fund has ensured that its programs are rigorously evaluated and studied. We are committed to getting strong results, helping to improve the lives of children and families all across the state, and to preventing child abuse and neglect. The evaluation provides us with critical information about program performance and allows for a better understanding and assessment of the impact of various interventions.
Several studies conducted by the University of Hartford's Center for Social Research show that programs supported by the Trust Fund are successfully providing support and assistance to high-risk families. The studies show that these programs are reducing the incidence and severity of child abuse and neglect and are helping parents to take hold of their responsibilities and to become better caregivers.
HELP ME GROW
In 2001, as a part of the Governor's Behavioral Health Initiative, Help Me Grow began receiving state funds. The Governor placed Help Me Grow in the budget of the Children's Trust Fund. Help Me Grow was a good fit for the Trust Fund: The vision for the program was consistent with the Trust Fund mission to prevent child abuse and neglect and to ensure the positive growth and development of children in Connecticut. By encouraging screening for all children and assisting children with small difficulties from developing larger problems, Help Me Grow is truly a prevention initiative.
The Children's Trust Fund embraced this new initiative and made a commitment to developing the program and maintaining ongoing funding. This commitment to program development included an ongoing and rigorous look at its implementation strategy, several steps to measure and reflect on its outcomes, and a process to apply the research findings to its program development. Help Me Grow seems to be firmly established in the state budget. The program has enjoyed the support of many advocates within the legislature, the executive branch, and in communities across the state.
Help Me Grow has had many successes since its inception and has played a central role in the state's efforts to support child development. The program has helped thousands of children find community resources, has trained hundreds of health care providers in developmental surveillance, and has assisted almost two thousand parents with monitoring the development of their children using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. These efforts have led to increased interest in ways to enhance the development of the state's children, including a new initiative that would get parents more involved.
Next Steps-Enhancement of Help Me Grow
During the coming year, the Children Trust Fund will enhance Help Me Grow by taking steps to ensure that Connecticut parents chart their child's progress in reaching critical developmental milestones from birth through age six. Research in recent years has documented the invaluable role of active parental monitoring in a child's healthy development.1 Under this effort, Help me Grow will increase the involvement of parents in monitoring their child's healthy development by placing the Ages and Stages Questionnaires in the hands of all interested parents.2 The use of this tool will make parents more aware of their child's progress and assist parents with the information they need to discuss their concerns with their child health care provider.
To implement this new component of Help Me Grow, the Trust Fund will employ two strategies: We will tap into the Trust Fund's existing network of programs and services; and we will enlist the support of several organizations in the private sector. The Children's Trust Fund will work with its Nurturing Families Network to reach and involve parents in the Ages and Stages monitoring program when their baby is born. The Network currently reaches more than 5,000 new parents each year. Intensive home visiting services are provided to approximately, 1200 parents at risk of child abuse and neglect and who are struggling with a myriad of issues in their lives. The Nurturing Families Network is operating in 23 of the 29 birthing hospitals in the state. We will also work with the staff at the hospitals that are not a part of this program. Through ongoing contact with the Help Me Grow staff, parents will be provided with the information they need to recognize the developmental milestones that signal their child's well-being and healthy development for up to five years. When parents or the staff have questions or concerns about how a child is learning, developing, or behaving, parents will be connected to services through Help Me Grow. There are currently 1,800 families participating in the statewide Ages and Stages monitoring program. With this new emphasis, the Trust Fund will be able to extend this service to help many more new parents.
A second strategy will involve the development of partnerships with other organizations that can help to engage families in efforts to monitor their children's behavior. This collaborative work will be in keeping with a host of joint ventures launched by the Trust Fund over the years. Examples of such organizations include the Connecticut Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics (CT-AAP), Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI), CT Birth to Three System.
The Children's Trust Fund has established an agency that is an incubator of new ideas and effective programs. Help Me Grow, soon to be enhanced by more active parent involvement, has made an important contribution to the state's efforts to support child development. The growing support for programs like Help Me Grow demonstrates the increasing interest of both the Executive Branch and the General Assembly in initiatives that focus on child development and stronger families. The development of effective programs, with the detailed documentation of results, is critical to generating continued support. With "information, information and more information," we will work to secure funding for Help Me Grow and other initiatives still in the planning stage to advance the healthy development of all of Connecticut's children.