Help me Grow: Nome to be pilot community for new program
Last Thursday, visitors from Anchorage arrived in Nome to present a new outreach program called Help Me Grow, aimed at preventing adverse childhood experiences in Alaska. Help Me Grow is a nonprofit organization currently active in 25 states, which uses a simple solution that builds on existing resources to identify at-risk children and help their families connect with services.
Dr. Matt Hirschfeld from the Alaska Native Medical Center, Jimael Johnson of the Department of Health and Social Services and Tamar Ben-Yosef of the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership presented “The Economics of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Alaska & The Role of Help Me Grow” at the Kegoayah Kozga Library on April 6.
The Help Me Grow system will be implemented across the state with help of funding from a federal grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration for the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Project, or ECCS. Nome will be a pilot community for the new program, along with Kodiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
In Nome, Megan Timm, CAMP Manager at Norton Sound Regional Health, along with ECCS Coordinator, Theo Heihn, will spearhead the program. Timm explained how they would be coordinating with local organizations to collect as much information as possible. “We are not trying to create more services, but create better glue,” Timm said. The hope is to have an expansive local database, where all available services for children and families are listed in one convenient place.
“The key is to really leverage the local resources that we have,” explained Tamar Ben-Yosef during her presentation. Ben-Yosef is the Executive Director for AAPP, which serves as the umbrella organization for Help Me Grow Alaska. AAPP has worked for the past two years to establish funding with partner DHSS to launch Help Me Grow.
Ben-Yosef explained the four components of the program, which include child health care provider outreach, community outreach, a centralized telephone access point (call center) and data collection and analysis.
The program does not provide direct services to families with children; it instead acts as a statewide resource center, to be used by medical providers, families, children, educators, community members and more. Ben-Yosef explained that the idea is that anyone can call in to Help Me Grow to ask about services, and then be provided with the right phone number of the right organization.
As the statewide program grows, collecting data will also be a major priority, which could give real insight into the state of families and children in Alaska.
Alaska is near the top of the nation when it comes to statistics of children at-risk for adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, for short. Dr. Matt Hirschfeld, Medical Director of Maternal Child Health Services at ANMC and Anchorage Co-Chair of AAPP, presented the effect of ACEs on children’s health, as well as the effect on health later in life.
ACEs are described as childhood experiences with neglect, abuse, violence that happen early in life, usually before the age of three.
The results of the studies are profound.
Dr. Hirschfeld explained how ACEs affect brain development, and how higher numbers of ACEs result in bad health later in life.
According to Dr. Hirschfeld, studies show that children, who have experienced four or more traumatic events, or ACEs, are at a greater risk for poor health, poverty and unemployment. Alaskans with more than four ACEs were 49 percent more likely to be unemployed, 92 percent more likely to make less than $20,000 per year, and 274 percent more likely to be unable to work at all.
The economics of ACEs, or the cost of it all, was a main portion of Dr. Hirschfeld’s presentation. The bottom line is that caring for children with health issues, and then later caring for their health issues as adults is a huge cost to the state. With this in mind, Dr. Hirschfeld encouraged audience members to think about the importance of investing in children, or pregnant women, or even so far back as to invest in teenage girls who may one day be mothers.
Dr. Hirschfeld said that currently, public investment is upside down. While money is being poured into development for older children and resources for adults, the real return on investment could be seen with an investment in early childhood education and maternal health.
According to Dr. Hirschfeld, decreasing the amount of ACEs in the state by just one half could save around $90 million annually. “Families with young children are the infrastructure of Alaska,” said Hirschfeld, explaining that if local communities were to invest in children, they would experience the greatest cost-to-benefit ratio, compared to any other investment.