For decades, healthcare professionals and early childhood experts have run on separate tracks: pediatricians focused on medical health, and early childhood experts supported families with things like home visiting, parent coaching, and access to preschool. A few collaborative pilots have happened here and there, but the two sectors have been largely disconnected, even while working with the same families.
Today, growing bodies of research are linking childhood trauma, kindergarten readiness, behavioral health and long-term health outcomes. These links mean that collaboration across health, education and social service sectors is no longer a nice-to-have. It is an urgent necessity.
“The social determinants of health are exactly the same as the social determinants of education. Everything that makes children healthier, also contributes to their success in school,” said Molly Day, Co-Director of Early Learning Multnomah.
partners create a regional approach
In 2014, the two Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) and three Early Learning Hubs in the Portland Metro region sat down together to figure out how to create a more seamless system of support for children and families. Today, the resulting regional Hub/CCO collaborative is a thriving network of professionals. They are tackling issues big and small together, to ensure children in the region are set up for healthy, successful lives from the very start.
“We’re committed to a regional partnership because our families don’t think about things in terms of county lines,” said Molly Day. “They move all around the region and they need the same supports no matter where they are.”
Early Learning Multnomah, Early Learning Washington County, and Clackamas Early Learning Hub are the three state-funded early learning hubs participating in the collaborative, along with the regional CCO, Health Share of Oregon.
“We think of the hubs as content experts and thought partners who are incredibly beneficial in helping us improve early life health,” said Peg King, Kindergarten Readiness Project Manager for Health Share. “It’s unusual for Medicaid to have a Kindergarten Readiness focus, but we’re committed to it. It is a priority in our Ready and Resilient strategic investment plan. We’re going upstream to try and prevent the next generation of adults with complex health care needs.”
Two major priorities: Kindergarten Campaign and Help Me Grow
Collaborative members have spent the last four years strengthening relationships while focusing on two major projects: 1) expanding the Kindergarten Sign Up campaign across the region, and 2) implementing Help Me Grow, a framework for developmental screening and referrals.
Working on the Kindergarten Sign Up campaign allowed the collaborative to gain early traction while also learning how to work together. They shared campaign resources and materials to reach families across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, urging them to sign five year olds up for Kindergarten by June 1.
Collaborative members are most proud of their work on Help Me Grow, which is now piloting in five pediatric clinics across the region.
“From the pediatric provider’s standpoint, one of the biggest needs that was identified was the lack of knowledge about referral options for families in need of support,” said Peg King. If a pediatrician had a family they were concerned about, they weren’t trained to refer them to the right services. There was nothing regional to support that.”
Help Me Grow is a much-needed framework for connecting children with developmental and behavioral concerns to the right services and following up to ensure they get support that works for them. The framework is a mix of developmental screening, family and community engagement, child health provider outreach, and early learning connections. It connects the work of pediatricians, community health workers, home visitors, parent coaches, and more.
Making transformative connections that last
One of the biggest wins for the collaborative has been the cooperative, enduring relationships members have built since it started.
“Our relationships have become so strong that we can’t get people to leave the room at the end of the meeting,” said Molly Day, Co-Director of Early Learning Multnomah. “We are too busy talking to each other, giving advice and solving problems.”
These connections, and the collaborative’s ability to implement strategies at a regional level, have gotten the attention of other health and early learning experts across the country. That recognition is also creating new opportunities for the regional hubs—for example, when Early Learning Multnomah was recently selected to be part of the Center for the Study of Social Policy's EC-LINC, a national network to inform policies that improve early childhood systems.
The Hub/CCO collaborative is an important example of how Early Learning Multnomah and other regional early learning hubs are changing the way systems operate—and connecting them in innovative ways—so that families with young children get the support they need as early as possible. It’s an essential part of ensuring that children have every opportunity to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
Interested in learning more about the Hub/CCO collaborative? Get in touch with Molly Day.
Photo courtesy of Health Share of Oregon.