Help Me Grow SC: Giving Parents the Answers They Need

New parents have a lot of questions about the new little humans in their homes—their care, their development, their behavior—and those questions can often be boiled down to: Is this normal? And if it’s not normal, what do I do?

If a child’s developmental or behavioral health isn’t normal, there are numerous resources in most communities to help, but there are barriers that might keep families from connecting to those resources—and that’s where Help Me Grow steps in, helping to remove obstacles and make connections.

Help Me Grow started at a children’s hospital in Hartford, Connecticut in 1997, and by 2002 had expanded to cover the rest of the state. In the 15 years since that first expansion, the network has grown to 51 systems in 28 states, including South Carolina.

Help Me Grow South Carolina was launched in 2012 with the GHS Children’s Hospital as its organizing entity—which is one of the structural requirements to be able to introduce Help Me Grow into a new region. Program manager Jane Witowski says, “The South Carolina leadership planning team determined that GHS children’s hospital would be the place to house it. One of our biggest advocates from the beginning is Dr. Desmond Kelly, a developmental behavioral pediatrician. He’s really been our champion.” Kelly is the medical director of the division of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the GHS Children's Hospital and the vice-chair for academics. He had a relationship with the Connecticut hospital where Help Me Grow began and saw how it worked, Witowski says.

In 2012, Help Me Grow SC was in Greenville and Pickens Counties, and in 2014, three low country counties were added: Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley. Last year Spartanburg County was added, and this year Anderson, Oconee, and Laurens, as well as three other low country counties, will bring the total to 12 counties. Working toward statewide coverage is another of the national center requirements.

Help Me Grow’s care coordinators work with children’s service providers such as pediatricians, the Department of Social Services, various childcare centers, the MIECHV (maternal infant/early childhood home visiting, often referred to simply as “home visiting”) program, and others to ensure that parents are able to get intervention as early as possible: “Research tells us that 80% of brain development happens in first 3 years,” Witowski says. “If a child is experiencing any kind of delay in development, the most important thing is to connect them to services that will help to mitigate delay.”

Spartanburg County resident Caroline M., whose son was diagnosed with autism at age two, found the help and support she needed—but only after she went looking for it. “It took a lot of effort trying to track down anyone to help with placement and early testing. I called two districts and three elementary schools before I was put in contact with them,” she says.

Help Me Grow offers free assessment to families like Caroline’s to help with early identification of developmental issues, and the results of the assessment are discussed with the parents and shared with the family’s physician. Witowski says only 29% of children under age six undergo any kind of developmental screening, and WMG’s goal is to substantially increase that percentage, with the aim of early intervention, education of parents about appropriate expectations, and treatment cost savings over time as the length and intensity of treatment is reduced.

Help Me Grow South Carolina has four full-time and one part-time care coordinators whose experience with early childhood systems is varied, from social work to public health and other fields, and two are bilingual. Five years in, the care coordinators have helped to process 1900 developmental screenings, and they stay with families throughout the process to be sure that the connections to support are made. Their documented connection to service rate of 84% is an impressive number, especially in light of a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that found a connection rate of 11%.

With South Carolina being ranked 41 out of 50 states in terms of child well-being, there is a lot of room for improving the care and services provided to families of young children. The long-term goal of Help Me Grow is to collect data on barriers and gaps of services to provide information and inform policymakers and leaders about those gaps, as well as duplication. “That information can redirect existing dollars to better meet the needs of families,” Witowski says. “If we can help to demonstrate the true lack of services, maybe the state can do something to improve access and the number of service providers.”

Help Me Grow SC’s toll-free number is 1-855-476-9211, and information about the services provided can be found at their web site.

Photos used with permission from Help Me Grow SC.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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