Infants and Toddlers Depend on the DC Council’s Leadership for their Healthy Development
by Jarred Bowman, Nisa Hussain, and Natasha Riddle Romero
As the DC Council works to finalize the fiscal year 2023 budget, Under 3 DC calls on the DC Council to increase public funding for the child and family health programs included in the Birth-to-Three law by $1.4 million. HealthySteps, Healthy Futures and Home Visiting programs each address a wide range of child and parent needs by providing support services at home, in child care settings, and in the family’s pediatrician’s office. Public investments in the District’s youngest residents are not only critical for families to thrive, but they also demonstrate long-term commitments to our city’s future.
Meeting this moment is significant as the District recovers from two-plus years of a pandemic that has stressed and stretched families and the health programs that support them. Many children ages zero to five were removed from school settings for extended periods during the pandemic and experienced significant changes in crucial family health services delivery. This funding will ensure that more Black and brown families can access the services all families need to thrive and promote more positive health outcomes for DC’s youngest residents.
Unfortunately, the mayor’s proposed budget does not include any increases in public investments in these programs. Thousands of infants and toddlers in the District could miss out on the HealthySteps program, which integrates a licensed child-development health professional in pediatric primary care settings to help parents adapt to life with a new baby. The Healthy Futures program, which focuses on strengthening the capacity of early learning settings to promote healthy social-emotional development in young children in every Ward, is also at risk of falling behind in its efforts to reach all child care programs participating in the District’s child care subsidy program with their services. And without additional investments in Home Visiting, fewer families will have the guidance to help them meet their family and child development goals. Bowser’s budget doesn’t go far enough to support DC families with young children. It represents a policy choice that creates barriers for them to access vital family health services in their communities and could deepen existing inequities in Black and brown infant and maternal health outcomes.
As the public comment period of the DC Council budget process comes to an end, Under 3 DC calls on the Council to heed the voices of parents, providers and practitioners who are deeply familiar with the benefits of these programs. They spoke courageously about the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how each program pivoted to meet their needs.
Flor Mendez, a local parent participating in a home visiting program, said, “The greatest benefit of participating in the Home Visiting Program has been learning many things to help my son develop. I have learned to talk more with my son, teach him new skills, take time to read books, and discover the talents and skills that my son has. Also, the program has helped motivate me to look for work, and as a family, we have learned many things.”
Ultimately, home visitors build trusted, long-term relationships with participants to coach caretakers towards self-sufficiency amidst great systemic barriers, connect them to DC’s early childhood services and guide families to use positive parenting practices. These services are especially critical during a time of crisis.
DC’s Healthy Steps program, which embeds licensed child-development health professionals in pediatric primary care settings to help parents adapt to life with a new baby and connect to infant toddler resources, is another critical public resource for families. It integrates licensed child-development health professionals in pediatric primary care settings. During the DC Health budget hearing this week, we heard Children’s National HealthySteps Program Manager Tininka Rahman speak about the enormous impact the program has had on her clients.
In her testimony, Tininka writes, “the HealthySteps program model is designed to facilitate early intervention referrals and medical appointments addressing developmental delays, autism, behavioral health, and varying supportive services to positively combat psychosocial circumstances. Current collaborations and partnerships connect patient families with services, support and information at a much higher rate. This includes drastically higher success rates with early intervention referral facilitations. By addressing these key health areas from a proactive perspective, we allow infants and toddlers to develop, live and grow healthier lives while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of further negative diagnoses and health inequities.”
Finally, we heard from early childhood policy advocates like Leah Castelez of the Children’s Law Center. She talked about how early learning programs have benefited significantly from the Department of Behavioral Health continuing to engage child care settings with their training and technical assistance in social-emotional development.
DC Council, the District’s families are counting on you to not leave their priorities out of the FY 2023 budget and to continue on our path to full Birth-to-Three implementation. As the Council marks up the budget next week, the Under 3 DC coalition asks that you include the following:
- Expand Healthy Steps in the 2023 fiscal year by an additional site ($300,000)
- Bring Healthy Futures to 25-35 new child care settings ($700,000)
- Increase funding for the District’s home visiting programs to adapt to the increased demands on their workforce and resources needed to support families during this pandemic (DC Health: $369,150; CFSA: $70,500).