The Department of Early Childhood is guided by long-standing research, which shows that the first five years are a critical time of growth and development for young children. Thus, it follows that the first five years are also the most critical time for our community of care – families, educators, practitioners – to come together and intervene early when we notice a concern or delay. Developmental screenings, and a robust system of support to respond to screenings, play a crucial role in kindergarten readiness, school success, and building a brighter future for all children. A robust, timely early intervention system can positively change a child’s trajectory, with benefits extending to families and caregivers, and far beyond the first five years.
In 2014, San Francisco became an affiliate county adopting the National Help Me Grow (HMG) early intervention model, since then our early intervention system has been on its own developmental course. HMG is a widely recognized framework that advances timely developmental screening, early intervention referrals, and successful outcomes for children through an interconnected community of care. In 2017, First 5 San Francisco funded its first grant to implement and oversee the HMG network in partnership with Early Care and Education sites. The HMG foundation has steadily grown, including increased centralization of developmental screening and response, expansion of site-based training and inclusion supports, implementation of care coordination supports, and new partnerships with pediatric clinics.
This Request for Grant Applications (RFGA) is, first and foremost, a response to the overwhelming community input received during our Strategic Planning as we centered on child and family needs. Early intervention and inclusion of children with developmental concerns and identified disabilities was surfaced by parents and discussed in nearly every community input session and, most recently, reaffirmed through parent leadership groups. Moreover, the use of digitally enabled developmental screening tools, like the Sparkler Mobile App, means that screenings are more accessible to parents and providers, necessitating that we address service access and availability. Kindergarten readiness rates in San Francisco and disparities for children of color, especially those with special health care and learning needs, persist. In this moment, we face not only a changing landscape, but also a service imperative.
This RFGA represents a significant local public investment to allow us to meet this moment by addressing the needs of San Francisco’s young children. It builds from the existing foundation of one funded grant to an early intervention and service system of care comprising multiple components, tiers of support, and ultimately multiple funded early intervention entities that can partner together around the city in service to children and families. We are enthusiastic for the opportunity to roll out this new system of care in collaboration with our community partners and parents, and integrating it with our other core strategies to truly maximize and realize the unlimited potential of the first five years for children’s learning and development.
Ingrid X. Mezquita, Executive Director, DEC