By Yen Duong
The Department of Health and Human Services has a vision for all North Carolina children to be on track by 2025 for healthy, stable lives. DHHS needs public input for how to get there from here. Among other goals, they want to decrease the inequity in the high infant mortality rate between African-American and white infants, increase the percentage of eligible children enrolled in Medicaid, and lower the percentage of kids in food insecure households, which is now at more than 20 percent.
DHHS released its North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan this month in response to an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper. State health officials would like people, especially caregivers of young children, to take a look at the plan and send in their thoughts by Nov. 30.
DHHS formed the plan in response to executive order #49 issued by Cooper in August. The plan consists of 10 goals as well as a framework to measure progress toward those goals.
Access to Preventive Health Services
Safe and Secure Housing
Safe and Nurturing Relationships
Family Stability for Children in Foster Care
Social Emotional Well-Being and Resilience
Access to High Quality Early Learning Programs
Early Childhood Development
“We know that the first eight years of a child’s life is a foundational period for brain growth and healthy development with lifelong implications,” said DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen in a press release. “We must work together toward a future where all of our children grow up healthy in safe and nurturing families, schools and communities.”
The plan does not offer specific actions for the state to reach those goals. Instead, the blueprint helps community groups, nonprofits, schools and parents work toward a common vision of a better environment for children growing up in North Carolina, said Susan Perry-Manning, principal deputy secretary of DHHS.[sponsor]
Perry-Manning challenged members of the public and community stakeholders to brainstorm answers to these questions: “What’s it gonna take for us to get there? What do families need to do, what do private organizations need to do, what does the public need to do, what does the General Assembly need to do, what do our leaders need to do to make those goals become a reality?”
Since August, DHHS has worked with community partners to form the plan on top of the work already done in the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading program, Perry-Manning said. Pathways is a three-year-old initiative to bring all North Carolina children up to grade-level reading, run by over 200 community, business and individual partners.
“North Carolina has a very active early childhood advocacy and service provider network that has really led the U.S. in many ways in a lot of the early childhood work we’ve done in the state,” Perry-Manning said.
She praised the expertise in North Carolina in the fields of health, mental health, family engagement, parenting and education.
“There’s lots of leaders around the state that we’ve been able to tap into for their expertise on the plan,” Perry-Manning said.
DHHS officials will meet with stakeholder groups across the state over the next few months to get further ideas and advice on the plan, said Rebecca Planchard, an early childhood policy advisor at DHHS. They’ve already met with a group of foster parents but want more feedback from other parents and from members of the public.
“When you look at the draft now, much of it is focused around our goals, which are quantitatively driven,” Planchard said. “We’ve talked to experts in the field to know the data and I know the types of things we measure.”
She said they’re looking for concrete ideas for what people, businesses and communities can do to meet the measurable goals. They also want to know if parents and members of the public agree on the 10 core goals or have other ideas on areas to focus on.
While people may not read the entire 33-page report, they should still send in that feedback, Perry-Manning said. The first seven pages lay out goals, guidelines and a general vision, which the public should comment on. The remaining pages include charts of metrics and measurable outcomes.
After receiving the public feedback and also meeting with community stakeholders, DHHS hopes to have a final document ready by early 2019. Perry-Manning said she thinks North Carolina’s effort is the first statewide early childhood action plan with a commitment to measurable goals in 2025.
“We believe if we see the outcomes that we think we can achieve, everybody will benefit: not just young children and families, but our whole state becomes a more productive and prosperous state,” Perry-Manning said. “We are in an increasingly globally competitive world, and we need all of our state’s talent to be as productive […] and successful as they can be.”
- Reduce the difference between the black and white infant mortality rates. The black infant mortality rate is currently 2.5 times that for white children.
- Increase the percentage of young children enrolled in Medicaid and Health Choice who receive regular well-child visits: from about 60 percent to almost 100 percent for toddlers and infants.
- Decrease the percentage of pre-school and school-aged children experiencing homelessness by 10 percent.
- Decrease the number of children who are abused, neglected or dependent.
- Speed up the process for children in the foster care system to either be reunited with their families (to less than a year) or to be adopted (to less than two years).
- Increase the percentage of income-eligible children enrolling in high quality early childcare.