Throughout our work to support affiliates in their Help Me Grow replication efforts, no issue has been more prominent or challenging than long-term sustainability.
One of the more secure forms of Help Me Grow sustainability has been inclusion in state budgets—though we now know such inclusion takes significant work. It is our hope that lessons learned from prior affiliate efforts and emerging strategies for state-level advocacy can help you achieve long-term sustainability for your Help Me Grow system.
A Story of State Budget Inclusion
In Connecticut, Help Me Grow was originally incorporated as a line item within the state budget of the Children’s Trust Fund, our state’s child abuse prevention agency. This funding has been included in every state budget since 2002. It has withstood multiple budget cycles and leadership changes, including three governors, in an era when cuts to similar programs are frequent.
The original incorporation depended upon several strategies honed during the Help Me Grow pilot study in Hartford, the state capital. First, Help Me Grow learned how to communicate the system’s mission so that it was in alignment with the agendas of legislative and executive branch leaders. Expansion of eligibility criteria for early intervention services to include vulnerable children was unacceptable; however, the notion of facilitating access to community-based, developmentally-oriented programs and services for all children through a central point of entry was politically expedient and supported.
In addition, Help Me Grow aligned with the then-Governor’s interest in expanding community-based mental health programs and services, and it addressed state leaders’ concerns about children’s behavior. Finally, Help Me Grow addressed concerns with the limitations of such outreach, as practiced by the state’s Medicaid managed care organizations, with the documented effectiveness of the Help Me Grow pilot study in linking children and their families to programs and services through outreach and care coordination Today, Connecticut’s Help Me Grow is a program of the new State Office of Early Childhood.
Because of the experience in Connecticut, we at the National Center anticipated our affiliates having similar success in securing state budget support for their efforts. Yet most affiliates have instead leveraged federal grant funding to support their replication activities. We are excited that Help Me Grow Florida has this year joined Connecticut and Iowa in receiving line-item funding in its state budget. This funding will support the spread of Help Me Grow throughout the state. We hope this development is a harbinger of similar actions in other states.
Emerging Strategies for State-Level Advocacy
A recent National Center webinar on securing state budget funding offered further helpful information for the advocacy of statewide Help Me Grow dissemination:
- Jane Baird, the Director of Government Relations at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, cited the evolving high-level focus on toxic stress and adverse experience as a point-of-entry for advocacy, comparing it to the increasing recognition of and response to the adverse effects of low-level lead exposure;
- Senator Beth Bye, co-chair of the Connecticut Legislatures’ Appropriations Committee, emphasized opportunities for “strategic framing” under the Affordable Care Act and the importance of building relationships;
- Vance Aloupis of the Children’s Movement of Florida spoke of the importance of cross-sector collaboration and the value of aggregating administrative and financial resources across agencies, while also emphasizing relationship building;
- Peter Gorski of The Children’s Trust of Miami spoke of the importance of recognizing and embracing serendipity as an opportunity; and
- Holly Hohmeister of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council reminded us to be always mindful of the systems-building context of our efforts.
In our visits to affiliates, we often quote former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: “All politics are local.” Each state and community must build and fund the systems that will work for them. Nonetheless, we are confident that experiences in Connecticut and Iowa and the recent successful advocacy in support of Help Me Grow in Florida offer lessons learned and implications for advocacy in other states.
Please be assured that the National Center is enthusiastically committed to supporting your advocacy efforts and sharing the lessons that continue to be learned from the great work of our affiliates.