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.
A key component of Help Me grow is the call center. 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).
The call center works closely with other agencies 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 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 state 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 the medical provider and Children’s Integrated Services (CIS) to ensure that the referred family is getting connected. Often it can take several months for families to feel comfortable and safe enough to try accessing support services like CIS.
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, ages 2 and 4, and their doctor had developmental concerns about both. Elizabeth called the parent and they completed CIS referral together over the phone. Elizabeth got permission to share information with the 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.
Text the letters HMGVT (in the body of the message) to the (short) phone number 898211.
When providers refer families to Help Me Grow, they have to let the family know and get their permission for follow up. Help Me Grow 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 Help Me Grow referral form also lets a provider indicate if they’ve already made a referral directly to CIS as well, so that Help Me Grow 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 government, 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 in the body of the message) to the shortcode (imagine this as a phone number) 898211.
Here is 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:
As the Regional Coordinator for Building Bright Futures, Steve staffs The Lamoille Valley Building Bright Futures Regional Council, a volunteer committee focused on the well being of young children and their families. There is one such Council in each of twelve regions of the State. Steve also works with the Playroom in Morrisville. He writes about early childhood, families, community, play, and equity.