Healthy early childhood development is extremely important for every individual’s future. During the first six years of a child’s life, they undergo an incredible amount of physical and mental development that creates a foundation for the rest of their life.
Unfortunately, when a child doesn’t have the support they need during these early years, it’s all too easy for them to fall behind developmentally. It’s up to us as a community to ensure that every family and child can benefit from valuable resources and information that encourage healthy development.
At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we recognize the importance of early childhood development in all North Texans’ lives. A child’s early years can have a profound impact on their entire lifetime of education, income and health—three areas that we’ve identified as the building blocks of opportunity.
That’s why we create and invest in programs that support healthy early development for all North Texas children. This important work includes our collaboration with Help Me Grow North Texas, a program that has recently expanded to Dallas and Collin counties and is creating a significant impact for local parents.
Let’s take a closer look at why a child’s early years are so important, and how programs like Help Me Grow North Texas are enabling parents to encourage healthy, on-time development for their children.
Early Childhood Development Statistics
Research indicates that 90% of brain development happens by the age of 5. These are the years that children absorb nearly everything they see, hear, taste and feel. Up to the age of 3, a child’s brain produces more than 1 million neural connections every second.
It’s no surprise, then, that the amount and quality of care, interaction and stimulation a child receives can have a huge impact on the type, number and quality of brain connections that develop and last throughout their lifetime.
In the early years of life, it’s especially important for children to receive the health and educational support and resources they need to truly thrive. Researchers have found that babies and young children who grow up in stable, safe and loving environments, and enjoy plenty of positive interactions with caregivers, typically are healthier and more successful in school and in life. It’s a strong example of how intertwined education, income and health can be in a person’s life.
Unfortunately, the converse is true as well. Children who don’t get lots of positive attention and caring interactions don’t develop as many positive neural connections. Far too many kids have their development stunted by factors like domestic violence, food insecurity, inaccessible health services and socioeconomic struggles. This in turn can negatively impact their school years, overall health and future.
Today one in four children is at risk for developmental delays, and 80% of children with developmental or behavioral problems don’t receive early intervention. While these numbers may seem daunting, they are also an urgent reminder that it takes a broad network of support to ensure local families have the resources and care they need to thrive.
A Community-Wide Collaboration
Help Me Grow North Texas, an incredible community-wide collaboration, is just one of the ways United Way of Metropolitan Dallas encourages healthy childhood development. The initiative includes more than 50 community partners that work together to provide valuable developmental resources and education to parents in 18 counties in and around North Texas. Since Help Me Grow launched in North Texas in 2019, the program has supported more than 5,000 families.
In January 2021, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas led the expansion of the Help Me Grow program into Dallas and Collin counties. Working with our partners—MHMR Tarrant County, Tarrant County Early Learning Alliance, Tarrant County Public Health, ChildCareGroup and TexProtects—we’ve been able to increase developmental screening for children in our community and provide direct navigation resources to parents while helping service providers assist more families.
The program delivers important services for North Texas parents, all free of charge:
For families, Help Me Grow North Texas not only supports their efforts to keep their children on track developmentally; it also creates a single, comprehensive resource for everything related to their child’s early years. This centralized access point saves them significant time and effort that can instead be spent with their families.
“The biggest ways the initiative has helped the community, particularly the family support community—providers and organizations that are already supporting families with young kids—is being able to have a consistent place to send families,” said Abigail Sharp, vice president of early childhood initiatives at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “It’s important for families because it creates a continuity of care—being able to not have a family start with a support service in one county and then end up in a new county and have to start from scratch is pretty amazing. Our navigation team is equipped to provide resources, referrals and support to families regardless of what county they’re in.”
Help Me Grow North Texas also delivers support and training to organizations that provide child development-related services. Meanwhile, the program collects and analyzes data on child development trends in our community. As a result, Help Me Grow North Texas organizers are able to help improve the quality of care that is provided to local families and make sure the system is constantly getting better.
Improving Health Access for North Texans
Local families have embraced Help Me Grow North Texas with enthusiasm.
“Since we launched in Dallas and Collin County, we’ve seen an incredible amount of growth and number of referrals,” Sharp said. “They’re utilizing the resources that they’re being given, and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback.”
Hudson Moses and his family are just one example of how this initiative is having a significant impact in the lives of North Texans. He and his wife started noticing signs of developmental delays in his son when he was about 2 years old.
“We didn’t even know what autism was, before that,” he says.
Then, Hudson heard about an Autism Awareness Month event with Help Me Grow North Texas.
“They helped point us in the right direction with various resources,” he says. “What appealed to us the most was the regular, sincere follow ups. They were always in touch, almost like a family member. They’re always asking, ‘Is your kid OK? Are you getting the right help?’”
Hudson said that newfound access to community resources was a turning point for his son.
“From where he was about eight months ago, when he wasn’t even saying mommy and daddy, to where he is now—he’s singing songs. Just yesterday, he started saying, ‘Daddy, I want this, I want that’. He’s independently eating, he’s even stealing food from the refrigerator. His personality has started to come out and shine. From a place of total disbelief to actually seeing progress, my experience has been nothing but positive.”
Community-wide programs like Help Me Grow North Texas are an effective way to ensure children have the best start in life. This initiative not only benefits individual families; it also helps build a stronger, more inclusive community where everyone can thrive throughout their lifetime.
This is lasting change that you can be a part of.