Health & Development
The Vermont Early Childhood Action Plan’s first goal is to give all children a healthy start through preventive and supportive services that ensure proper health and education for children and families.
Areas where Vermont’s young children are sustaining and thriving
Access to Health Insurance
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count Databook 2016” shows Vermont tied with Massachusetts with the lowest percent of uninsured children in the country. The Foundation cites the US Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey data, which shows 97.8% of Vermont children under the age of 18 covered by some form of health insurance in 2014.
Reducing the risk of low birthweight is important: “low birth weight babies (weighing less than 2,500 grams/5.5 pounds) are more likely than babies with normal weight to have health problems as a newborn … [and] have a higher risk of chronic health conditions later in life.”
Vermont has seen a steady increase in the number of children under age 3 completing vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. In 2015, 76% of Vermont children 19–35 months old received the full series—the highest rate reported in Vermont. The Healthy Vermonters 2020 goal is to have at least 80% of 19–35-month-old children receive all recommended vaccines.
Health and development challenges
The rate of Vermont newborns with opioid exposure increased significantly since 2008 with a diagnosis rate in 2012 five times higher than the national average. However, it is possible these numbers reflect a transparent, comprehensive, and nurturing system of care in Vermont. Vermont has one of the most comprehensive systems of care for adults seeking treatment for opioid dependence in the country. The University of Vermont found that among women delivering infants exposed to opioids in utero, 60% began treatment before conception and 95% began treatment by the time of delivery. In addition, 90% of the women kept custody of their children. Infants born to women in treatment do not have worse outcomes and there are no known negative long-term outcomes of in-utero opioid exposure. Also, most Vermont hospitals use the diagnosis code of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) when the infant has opioid exposure, while many US hospitals code only those infants who need treatment. In fact, at the University of Vermont, only 25% of infants with an opioid exposure diagnosis needed treatment.
Overall, the number of pregnant women smoking before and during pregnancy has decreased. This is good news for Vermont’s young children and their families. According to the Vermont Department of Health, “smoking during pregnancy can have a negative impact on the health of women and children by increasing the risk of fertility problems and pregnancy complications … [and can] increase the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome—some of the leading causes of infant mortality.”
Prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the leading preventable causes of birth defects. Reducing the percentage of pregnant women who drink alcohol is a goal of Healthy Vermonters 2020, the state’s set of public health goals for the decade. Overall, the number of women who used alcohol in the 3 months prior to pregnancy has been decreasing.
Strengthening health and development supports
Development screenings help assess developmental progress of young children, improve early identification of risks and/or delays, and ensure that children and families are linked to appropriate resources and services. The American Academy of Pediatrics Bright Futures Guidelines set the schedule for these screenings for children under age three at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and as needed to address concerns. A 2015 report found that 25% of Vermont children who received health services through a CHAMP (Children’s Health Advances Measured in Practice) network practice in 2014 received all three recommended developmental screens by age 3.51 To increase the number of children receiving screenings, Vermont Child Health Improvement Program (VCHIP) has several initiatives to engage families, health care providers, and early care and learning providers.
- The launch of HelpMeGrow, a statewide system helping identify at-risk children, linking those children and their families to services and supports. Through Vermont 2-1-1, HelpMeGrow received approximately 400 calls from its September 2015 launch through June 2016.
- The training of 430+ early care and learning providers in developmental screening.
- Staff engagement from over 44 pediatric and family health practices in efforts to increase Vermont developmental screening rates.
Children have been a priority in Vermont’s effort to eliminate hunger. Vermont has expanded students’ access:
- In 2008, by eliminating the cost to students of reduced-priced breakfasts.
- In 2013, by eliminating the cost to students of reduced-priced lunches.
- In 2014, by adding the Community Eligibility Provision, allowing a school or group of schools with 40% or more of their students directly certified for free meals to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students for a four-year period.
There has been a steady increase in children under age 18 enrolled in 3SquaresVT—a federal US Department of Agriculture program (formerly food stamps) designed to help stretch food dollars—from 17.3% in 2009 to 26.4% in 2015.57 Each year represents the rolling average of data for three years. Parents may be eligible for 3SquaresVT if their gross household income is equal to or less than 185% of the FPL, regardless of the resources they own, or if they receive the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit.
All content is from BBF’s 2016 publication of How Are Vermont’s Young Children & Families.
Citations, figures and tables available here