Home Visits: Minnesota’s Help Me Grow Program Might Just Refer You and Your Child Without Your Consent
With all the discussion of expanded home visits in Minnesota, an existing program, Help Me Grow (HMG), is already referring parents and children for the purpose of home visiting services. Help Me Grow is an interagency organization, working with and on behalf of the Department of Education and Department of Health and partnering with all local service agencies.
The HMG website is bright and cheerful and demonstrates the importance of helping children develop to their furthest potential. We are sure that there are many devoted individuals who will deliver these home visit services. In some cases, services may be needed. However, with any government program there will be monetary assistance followed by regulations. Always beware the “free” program!
HOME VISIT REFERRALS
If you as a parent, or someone else such as a professional, friend, family member (or basically anyone) has concerns about your child’s development, you and your child can be referred to the Minnesota Help Me Grow program without your knowledge. Currently, professionals (health care providers or teachers) are required to refer your child if they are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development. This is quite an overreach!!!
A Minnesota Department of Education’s “Help Me Grow” spokesperson stated that in 2018, just under 22,000 children, birth through kindergarten, were referred to the program “because a caring adult in their lives identified a concern”. That number has skyrocketed from just 533 referrals in 2010 when the program was first implemented. This same spokesperson related that the program is expected to rapidly expand very soon.
Although originally begun for ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education Services) purposes, Help Me Grow wishes to expand services to the broader realm of early childhood according to a 2016 article on the Think Small website. According to the Think Small article, “Many families are fearful of connecting with the school districts because they do not want their child to be labeled for years to come. Expanded Help Me Grow hopes to help mitigate this by offering services beyond ECSE and making sure families are informed about the options.” Indeed parents ought to be concerned when agencies and districts are housing this early data on an individual’s life. https://www.thinksmallblog.org/?p=422
Referrals are based upon developmental milestones from the following four categories: motor, communication and language, social and emotional and cognitive. The “when to refer” section offers pointers on when best to refer to your child, birth to 2 years old. Yet, children can be referred up to 5 years old under the 3 to 5 year preschool program.
The only issue we see here is that each child develops a little differently, some ahead and some behind, developmentally. Take for instance, my friend’s son who didn’t utter a word until he was 2 years old. His chatty sister spoke for him most of that time. When he reached two, he spoke in paragraphs and they’ve not been able to quiet him since. According to this chart, that infant’s non-speaking behavior (babbling) would have kicked off a couple of years of home visits. That young man today is not only a very intelligent young man but also a fine public speaker.
According to the standard visiting length set by the Minnesota Visiting Nurses Association, they prefer to see families for 3 or 4 years according to testimony provided before the House Early Childhood Committee. http://ww2.house.leg.state.mn.us/audio/mp3ls91/child022119.mp3
The referral page gives the disclaimer that a referral may be done without your knowledge or consent. Of course, they “encourage” the person making the referral “to speak with the family about the referral”. Not necessary, however. “As a professional, you MUST refer…
According to the program website, “The family will be contacted by the local school district to arrange for a screening or evaluation to determine if a child is eligible for Infant and Toddler Intervention or Preschool Special Education services.”
Besides the referral component, the data being collected on your child is concerning. Some families may never know that their family data was entered into the MDE website. The Minnesota Dept of Education will have information stating your child needs home visits as well as the local school district. What if you decline?
When a doctor or teacher refers your child to Help Me Grow, they will enter your child’s first, last and name (if they have it), their date of birth, their age, who they live with, your name, address, and phone number (if you are the person the child lives with). If they can’t find your phone number, another contact of someone close to you will be given to Help Me Grow authorities.
Once in the Help Me Grow portal, information is entered to refer to the proper school district.
This information goes to the school district where the parent and child resides. You will be contacted within seven to ten days to discuss the referral.
After contact from the school district, early intervention professionals may choose to conduct a screening using simple questionnaires or by talking with you about your child’s development.
“Help Me Grow” online information states that the data collection under the national model is to “understand all aspects of the Help Me Grow system, including the identification of gaps and barriers”.
There is also an ongoing effort to expand Help Me Grow to be able to connect with a wider group of families to a broad array of supports and services—following the “national” Help Me Grow model developed by the CT Children’s Medical Center. The goal is to move toward this national model while offering the child and parent more services with the obligatory required data collection.
In 2016, a number of recommendations were made to expand the Help Me Grow system in Minnesota including state funding. During a May 2016 Help Me Grow tour of the state, Kelly Monson, director of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet stated, “This is the second year that Help Me Grow was included in the Governor’s budget. Currently, the Senate is allocating the requested $1 million in state funding for the program. While Help Me Grow presently receives funding through a few different sources, they are somewhat restrictive, and extra dollars are needed to expand. Monson hopes to continue to use multiple, sustainable funding sources for the program in the future, including public-private partnerships.”
While a parent may decline home visit services their information has already been uploaded to the Minnesota Department of Education and local school district. Is this correct information? Who else is receives this information? Are the services truly necessary? Will the current developmental milestones become more rigid? What philosophical ideas does your pediatrician hold concerning good health as well as your child care provider in good education?
Parents must be aware of their pediatrician’s ideas about what constitutes good health and whether they would have consentual conversations about home visits. Additionally, parents must be aware of their child care provider’s ideas about what constitutes good development at these young ages. The responsible parent will do everything in their power to ensure their children’s success which may or may not include government intervention. There are other options.
In the end, and in the case of Help Me Grow, parents do need to be aware of possible referrals when your local school district calls for home visits. MACC would advise all parents to request having their data removed from both the MDE and local district, regardless of whether you decide or not that home visits are in the best interests of your family. This program is only going to expand and expand in funding, policy and cradle to grave data collection!