South Carolina Is Home To Innovative Investments That Help Children Start Strong And Benefit Society

by Paul Dworkin, MD, Founding Director, Help Me Grow National Center; Executive Vice President for Community Child Health, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; and Institute for Child Success board member; and

Desmond Kelly, MD, Chief Medical Research Officer for Prisma Health; Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Dean for Research, University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville; Medical Director of Help Me Grow SC; and Institute for Child Success board chair.

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3:1 Return on Investment

Stunning new research highlights the impact of Help Me Grow South Carolina: every dollar invested in their services to connect families and children with resources delivers at least $3 in savings across a range of systems, including special education, child welfare, early intervention, health care, public assistance, health insurance, and criminal justice systems; we believe these are just the tip of the iceberg of how the model benefits families, systems, and taxpayers.

The Help Me Grow model is not a stand-alone program, but rather utilizes and builds on existing resources already available to families in the Palmetto State. These results are incredibly exciting for those working to advance this model in our state as well as the broader early childhood community and gives us a road map for making taxpayer funds go further for our families.

Only through systems-level research and collaboration can we connect the dots between all of the systems and sectors that work with families–and maximize the benefits for children. A network of community resources works like a power grid. When the grid functions well, families can plug into an organized flow of resources and easily access the ones they need. Help Me Grow SC (HMG SC) strengthens the grid by maintaining a current directory of available services and connecting service providers to each other to create an interconnected system.

The last several decades have seen a tremendous increase in the number of programs, policies, and practices to improve child well-being, informed by greater knowledge of how children’s brains develop in the early years. But the creation of such programs alone does not mean they are working for families; in many cases, families facing challenges–whether they be economic, medical, social, or other–may struggle to know what resources are a good “fit” for them. Help Me Grow SC focuses on meeting the needs of families, which can include light-touch responses like helping families track their child’s development and identify any potential concerns at an early stage.

We are certainly not impartial observers. Dr. Dworkin is the Founding Director of the Help Me Grow National Center, an originator of this model which is now being implemented in more than 30 states; Dr. Kelly has been a key proponent of expanding the model in South Carolina, contributing to its establishment and growth through his leadership role in developmental pediatrics at Prisma Health in the Upstate and continuing to serve as medical director of HMG SC. Together, we have supported HMG SC as it has developed over the past 11 years and settled into its new home with South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association (SCIMHA), where it is working to establish a statewide network to build capacity among communities to provide access to services for young children and their families. Approximately 9,000 South Carolina families have benefitted from services so far.

Why this Research is So Meaningful

This new research conducted with Manatt Health confirms what we have long believed is the power of Help Me Grow: helping families by identifying and responding to their priorities and concerns, navigating existing resources, and strengthening families’ capacity to promote their children’s optimal health, development, and well-being. HMG SC is a powerful complement to the health services families already receive in clinical settings, as well as to the information they may receive from teachers, case workers, and other professionals working with their children.

The timing of this report is particularly stirring. In addition to our other professional hats, we both serve on the board of the Institute for Child Success (ICS), a Greenville-based nonprofit research and applied policy organization dedicated to the success of all young children, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. ICS also uses a systems-level approach to create a culture that facilitates and fosters the success of all children. ICS supports policymakers, service providers, government agencies, funders, and business leaders focused on early childhood development, healthcare, and education–all to coordinate, enhance, and improve those efforts for the maximum effect in the lives of young children (prenatal to age eight). SCIMHA and ICS partner on a range of initiatives to bring this systems-level focus to young children and their families, including collaborating with other state and local partners to create South Carolina’s Prenatal-to-3 Plan to increase the social and emotional well-being of the state’s children, families, and the professionals who serve them.

The events of the COVID-19 pandemic since spring 2020 have made crystal clear how interconnected our systems and services are. Families will grapple for years to come with the impacts of this time, especially on our youngest children. Both HMG SC and ICS operate with the view that interconnected problems require interconnected solutions, from light-touch to more intensive. We are energized by this new research and encourage the policymakers and philanthropic partners of South Carolina to continue prioritizing investments that take a systems-level view of the challenges families face. Our children deserve it.

To learn more about Help Me Grow South Carolina, please visit https://helpmegrowsc.org/, to learn about South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association, please visit https://www.scimha.org/, and to learn about Prisma Health, visit https://www.prismahealth.org/.

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