Help Me Grow – How To Find And Connect Families To Help
By Steve Ames
In my work as Building Bright Futures Regional Coordinator for the Lamoille Valley, I’ve been working to spread the word about Help Me Grow. Help Me Grow is the information and referral center for young families and kids that has recently been ramping up in Vermont. It’s part of the 211 system – and Child Development Specialists Elizabeth Gilman and Megan Fitzgerald are on the other end of the line or text at 211*6.
A key component of Help Me grow is the call center. The call center works closely with other organizations throughout the state. Though most calls come from families directly, sometimes they come from medical providers, or child care providers or family and friends. Calls run the gamut from “I missed my WIC appointment do you know how late they’re open?” to wanting to have an in depth discussion about a child’s development or a request for potential help in the community for food or housing. There is significant value with the Help Me Grow system in that the calls can be anonymous, which lowers a caller’s fear, encourages them to really describe what they need and allows trust to be built over time.
The Help Me Grow call center Child Development folks describe working with a mom with two children, one of whom receives special education services. The mom is a recent domestic violence survivor who had moved in with her family. The caller did not want to share information about herself or her kids on the first call, which was a request for help around food. She didn’t want to have to share her story repeatedly with service providers, because she was concerned about being pitied or seen as not a good parent. The initial call with Help Me Grow was directed by the specialist to all the positive things the caller was doing as a parent – how involved she was in her child’s Individualized Education Plan, the positive relationships she had with her parents, identifying some basic needs in her area, and how she might access resources. The specialist spoke specifically about Reach Up and how it might build on the strengths and resiliency she already had to transition her back to work. On that first call, she was not interested in seeking Reach Up assistance. However, after several calls and follow ups, she went to a local food shelf and had a very positive experience, and some time later went to the Economic Services office to sign up for help.
Often families don’t have built in supports that the caller described above did. Elizabeth, one of the two Child Development specialists at Help Me Grow, has reached out to families referred from medical providers when the families are hesitant or don’t respond to calls from Children’s Integrated Services. Elizabeth often works with medical providers and Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) to ensure that the referred family is getting connected and understand that CIS is a service of the Lamoille Family Center. Rather than saying, “it can take several months” how about something that leads better in to the next paragraph… When a parent feels uncomfortable reaching out for services HMG can assist in many different ways to support the family accessing service in a timely way.
Help Me Grow is working on a more intentional partnership with CIS. Recently a family was referred to Help Me Grow by a physician. The family has two young children, 2 and 4 and their doctor had developmental concerns about both. Elizabeth called the parent and they completed Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) referral together over the phone. Elizabeth got permission to share information with medical provider, CIS, and school district from the caller. Then she worked together to pursue Early Intervention for the younger child and school-based services for the older child. Help Me Grow was able to make the referral to the school district directly so CIS staff could focus on the Early Intervention work for the younger child. Then Help Me Grow followed up with the physician to let them know that the connection had been made and that the kids had begun to get the supports their physician knew they needed.
When providers refer families to HMG, they have to let the family know and get their permission for follow up. HMG never cold calls a family. The Help Me Grow referral form requires providers who complete it to confirm that they’ve talked to the referred family. The HMG referral form also lets a provider indicate if they’ve already made a referral directly to CIS as well, so that HMG can instead focus on connecting the family to wrap around supports like playgroups, activities or basic needs, while they are going through the CIS referral process. There are some families who, even if referred to CIS, are hesitant to engage with anyone from the an organization or agency, so having another option for engaging those families is critical. Help Me Grow is this option.
Understanding the depth of follow up through the call center is critical for community partners to understand. Help Me Grow is working to fill gaps and build connections over time with more difficult to reach families and eventually connect them to services. Those who resist getting help with their young children in need are difficult to find, and, when they don’t receive the help they need, problems often increase over time.
To make Help Me Grow even easier to connect with, the Child Development Specialists are available via text for families – folks can text the letters HMGVT (that’s what you send) to the short code (imagine this as a phone number) 898211
Here’s Help Me Grow’s super informative website. On it you can find the Referral form, and lots of developmental information for young families as well as for providers of services:
Here are two great smartphone apps, for both iPhones and for Android devices that are terrific ways to get more information about your child’s development:
This article was originally published on the blog “Live Well, Lamoille” at http://www.
Lamoille Valley & Central VT Regional Coordinator
Building Bright Futures