The extent to which Help Me Grow (HMG) affiliate communities across the country have adapted in their capacity to mitigate and manage both proximate and distal impacts of COVID-19 on families of young children has been nothing short of extraordinary and inspiring.

While HMG systems have on many occasions supported families during times of critical need, the present pandemic created rapid and far-reaching shifts in the landscape of how children and families can access and benefit from needed services. As COVID-19 emerged as a significant public health threat across the country, novel measures related to social distancing and the closing of and/or restricted access to schools and health and human services agencies impacted families’ access to care and critical support systems.

In response, HMG communities leveraged core model components – including a dedicated centralized portal of entry and strong relationships with families, providers, and other early childhood system leaders – to identify areas of critical need and be primed to respond.

While the HMG National Center has long held up innovation as a core pillar of our work, there is no question that the types of adaptations happening across the network to respond to the emerging needs of families brought about by COVID-19 are both numerous and unprecedented. To expand our collective network capacity to identify, elevate, and diffuse promising practices during this critical window, we are excited to announce the HMG National Center and Childhood Prosperity Lab are partnering with Spring Impact to elevate and diffuse emerging best practices developed by affiliates in response to COVID-19. Spring Impact scales social impact solutions that transform communities. Over the course of eight weeks, we are seeking to both operationalize and rapidly share examples of strategies developed in response to this global health crisis.

To aid in our identification of promising practices, the HMG National Center conducted a network-wide survey in April of 2020 about emerging responses to COVID-19, followed by a network-wide affiliate call in May of 2020 to support targeted discussion with affiliates about the ways that COVID-19 was impacting children and families in their community, the steps they’d taken to respond, and what collective action we could take as a network in our messaging, outreach, advocacy, and support to families. Spring Impact conducted in-depth interviews with several affiliate leaders and staff of the HMG National Center to explore how affiliates are pivoting their approaches to align with current needs.

Together, we synthesized the information we collected regarding COVID-19, identified themes and trends, and assessed what is working best to meet the needs of families during the present crisis. One of the more prominent themes that emerged is proactive outreach.  Many affiliates reported proactively conducting outreach to families to understand how their needs have changed and to what resources they would benefit from having access. Affiliates also conducted proactive outreach to new and existing community partners to understand how their delivery model changed and strategize how to effectively link families to needed services. 

Our next steps center on identifying appropriate channels to share this work with the network, what types of tools and resources would be maximally supportive to uptake, and how to engage and sustain a cohesive network discussion about this important topic at a time of so much continual change.

HMG is an established and trusted resource in many communities across the country. In doing this work, we seek to enhance affiliates’ capacity to support emergency planning, preparedness, and response by building upon HMG’s capacity to effectively and efficiently assess needs and link families to needed services and resources. Our belief is that the lessons learned through this work will influence our continued support of children and families both at this time of crisis and beyond, as we think about how to continually refine child-serving systems that optimally support developmental promotion, early detection, referral, and linkage.

“A key role of the HMG National Center is to share the best practices and innovations of our remarkable affiliates to inform and inspire the efforts of our entire network. This partnership with the Childhood Prosperity Lab and Spring Impact enables us to identify and accelerate the spread of efficacious interventions to address families’ most critical needs and optimize the impact of HMG systems,” said Paul H. Dworkin, MD, the executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, the director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, and the founding director of the Help Me Grow National Center.

This work is funded by the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family foundation.  

More information about the partnership between the Help Me Grow National Center and Childhood Prosperity Lab is available here.

Erin Cornell, MPH, is the Associate Director of the Help Me Grow National Center.

Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for the Childhood Prosperity Lab, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.