By Kimberly Martini-Carvell

I am so excited for the 9th annual Help Me Grow National Forum to kick off today in Seattle, Washington. We are expecting more than 400 child health advocates to attend the 3-day event that includes Help Me Grow (HMG) affiliates, thought leaders in early childhood system building, state and federal partners, and other key stakeholders. Throughout the Forum we will celebrate successes from our collective HMG system building efforts, discuss new opportunities to further advance child outcomes, and identify promising innovations that can enhance our collective impact.

Our Forum is hosted locally by Help Me Grow Washington, which is operated by the not-for-profit WithinReach. Help Me Grow Washington launched in 2010 as Help Me Grow National Center’s (National Center) 8th affiliate and WithinReach is now leading efforts to expand the system across the state.

The HMG affiliate network increased its national footprint over the last year to include 28 state affiliates operating 99 HMG systems that receive technical support from the National Center, which is based at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. The increase accounts for efforts at the local, state and national level to promote young children’s healthy development by ensuring those at risk for developmental challenges are identified as early as possible, and that they are served through comprehensive early childhood systems that utilize care coordinators to efficiently refer and link families to community-based programs through a centralized access point. The Help Me Grow system modelreflects a set of evolving best practices for designing and implementing a system that can optimally meet the needs of young children and families. HMG affiliate efforts ensure the early detection of concerns and the successful connection of families to needed services.

Our Forum includes an opening reception at the Museum of Pop Culture; a Washington State plenary featuring public health leaders from King County; and 30 breakout sessions that focus on a wide-range of child development topics, such as HMG implementation, strategies for supporting social-emotional screening, and advancing high-quality care coordination for all children.

The keynote address will be delivered by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is a nationally-renowned pediatrician and expert on the impact toxic stress and trauma have on child health and development. Dr. Harris founded the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco and just published a book on the impact of toxic stress on children, The Deepest Well.

While last year’s Forum included a shark-tank style Innovation Challenge, this year we are focusing more on how to strengthen existing innovations, and what we can learn from those models that have gone on to become well established in the early childhood field. Our innovation plenary session will be presented by Zero to Three’s HealthySteps model, which is utilized by providers around the country to help families identify, understand and manage parenting challenges. Help Me Grow and HealthySteps share a focus on strengthening families and systems to ensure early detection, referral and linkage. I look forward to hearing from national HealthySteps leadership about the evolution of the model, including factors influencing its successful scale and spread and plans for future growth.

We will also host an innovation consultation session for three HMG affiliates that applied and were accepted to participate in this unique opportunity. A panel of thought leaders and innovation diffusion experts will offer insights on how to strengthen promising Help Me Grow efforts to enhance developmental screening and surveillance as well as improve the connection of children and families to services.

Our Forum represents a chance for our affiliates to learn from one another and to be inspired by those implementing best practices in early childhood system building within and across our network. We are thrilled that our affiliate network now stretches into more 28 states. We are hopeful that it will one day stretch into all 50 states so we can maximize our collective efforts to enhance developmental and behavioral outcomes for children.

Kimberly Martini-Carvell is the executive director of the Help Me Grow National Center which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.