Help Me Grow, funded in part by the Preschool Development Grant, supports families and caregivers that have concerns about their child's behavioral issues or developmental delays and connects them to free community-based services.
By Ashia Aubrey
Parents whose children struggle with early learning or show signs of behavioral issues or developmental delays may not know where to turn. Or they may face barriers to making sure their needs are being met and finding resources. One organization wants to help.
Help Me Grow
is working to assure families that children can thrive regardless of their developmental stage. The national organization, piloted in Nebraska, acts as a framework and connection point for families and lives out its mission to “nurture every child on the path of success.”
“All children should have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Rick Helweg, the project manager of Help Me Grow.
Help Me Grow, funded in part by the Preschool Development Grant, wants families and caregivers to be supported and helps them identify any developmental, behavioral, or educational concerns they may have by connecting them to free community-based services. For example, a parent or caregiver may be concerned about how their child learns, plays, or interacts with others. A guide on the Help Me Grow website
provides a milestone checklist and tips on how to talk to a doctor about it. Other resources
include help for health care workers and emergency responders who need child care. Help Me Grow also offers free developmental screenings and tips on sensory milestones and toddler and preschool-age growth.
Roughly one in six children in the United States have a developmental disability or developmental delay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Nebraska, 2,332 infants and toddlers with developmental delays, speech and hearing language impairment, autism, and other disabilities were served through the Early Development Network in 2018–19, according to the 2020 Kids Count in Nebraska report
“There’s a lot of resources in the state of Nebraska—specifically there’s a lot of resources in Lincoln and Lancaster County—but sometimes it’s hard for parents to know how to access those resources,” Helweg said.
Help Me Grow started in Nebraska to support children and families. Helweg said about two years went into interviewing thousands of people across the state—child care providers, health care workers, parents and families, community members, and more. The assessment revealed issues related to early childhood in Nebraska—people worked in silos, and mental health support for children from birth to age 8 was lacking. Help Me Grow wanted to get community members to work together for children’s health and be a centralized access point for families.
Help Me Grow also provides local support in Lincoln and Lancaster County to families through the 211 Helpline
that the United Way of the Midlands operates. The helpline care coordinator supports the caller with questions they have regarding their child. The 211 system fields questions from parents and connects them with resources on other social factors of health, like food, transportation, and housing. If parents have further questions about their child’s development, they may be referred to a team of parent resource coordinators at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, which offers therapy, treatment, and other services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The program is also extending its services and working with child care centers. Help Me Grow recently partnered with Educare Lincoln to connect families to the program. Helweg said they hope to have Help Me Grow associated with most health care and early child care providers in Lincoln and Lancaster County. Expansion is also on the horizon for Help Me Grow—Helweg said the program would like to have a statewide presence, from the Omaha metro area to rural Nebraska.
Ashia Aubrey is a Preschool Development Grant communications specialist at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. Previously, she was the associate director of communications at an Omaha nonprofit and served as a reporter and television news anchor in Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
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