Tax-funded early childhood programs to begin, expand March 2020

Article featured on Mlive on February 1, 2020 - By Michael Kransz |

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- New and expanded programs to promote the healthy development of children up to age 5 and connect their parents with resources will begin in March.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners last week signed off on allocating $3.27 million in millage money on 23 programs for the first year of early childhood development programs.

“The programs and proposals that were put forth by Kent County agencies showed innovation and excitement around early childhood work and the importance of improving outcomes for our youngest children and their families,” said Annemarie Valdez, president and CEO of First Steps Kent. “We are grateful for the support of Kent County residents. This is a vital investment in young children across our community and we are now closer to making sure children are ready for the first day of kindergarten.”

First Steps Kent is the non-profit which manages the millage’s programming and finances. The group spearheaded the countywide millage question when it went to the ballot Nov. 6, 2018.

Voters approved the six-year millage of .25 mills by a vote of 151,359 to 115,565. Outreach and navigation efforts began last year.

With administration and outreach costs, as well as placing reserve funds, the total allocated millage funds for 2020 are $5,232,370. Not all millage funds accrued last year and expected this year were allocated.

Unallocated funds remain in an account at the county and will be allocated in another funding round, according to First Steps officials. The reason all funds weren’t allocated is because the number of proposals that met the sought-after criteria totaled in cost less than the full allocation, officials said.

The millage was put forward as a way to reduce the early childhood funding and services gap in the county.

According to a study by First Steps, nearly half of all Kent County children under 5 eligible for health and school readiness programs are not able to receive them due to lack of space. The study points to a lack of funding as the reason.

The programs expanded or created by the millage dollars focus on “families with the greatest needs” and help ensure young children across the county have service access, according to First Steps.

The 23 programs with funding allocated for 2020 are broken down into four areas: home visiting, healthy development, play and learn communities, and healthy and safe homes.

Information on how to enroll in these programs will be provided in March, according to First Steps. The program and category descriptions below were provided by First Steps:

HOME VISITING: Trained providers, such as nurses or parent educators, to regularly visit families in their home to offer a variety of home-based education and support. Home Visiting service providers were awarded a total of $1,309,094 for 2020.

  • D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s – Early Childhood Attachment services utilizes the Infant Mental Health model to increase attachment between newborns, infants, and toddlers with their caregivers. Read more about Early Childhood Attachment services here:
  • Easterseals Michigan, Inc.– Evidence-based practice Incredible Years Home Coaching model will conduct home visiting services to Kent County residents. Learn more here:
  • Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative – A new home visiting service to families for their Early Head Start wait list, a program called “Flourish at Home.”
  • Family Futures – Healthy Families Kent County: Home Visiting Services and Interpretation Services. Learn more about Healthy Families here:
  • Bright Beginnings Home Visiting (Kent ISD) - Bright Beginnings will expand current services to serve families with identified risk factors in Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, Wyoming Public Schools, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, and Godwin Heights Public Schools. Learn about Bright Beginnings here:
  • MomsBloom - Expansion of In-home, Hands-on Postpartum Support program to provide in-home, hands-on support to more families in Kent County, particularly those in underserved communities. Learn more here:
  • Baby Scholars (Spectrum Health System) - Baby Scholars program which uses the Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) evidence-based model for home-based interventions.
  • Strong Beginnings (Spectrum Health System) - Strong Beginnings is a partnership of eight agencies to address the disparities in birth outcomes in Kent County. Learn more here:
  • Vibrant Futures – The Little Scholars program is a new parent and relative-caregiver coaching model delivered in homes, caregiver homes, centers, institutions of trust, and other convenient locations.

HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT: Programming supports parents and caregivers in obtaining the knowledge and skills to support their child’s health, development, and early learning. Healthy Development service providers were awarded a total of $761,645 for 2020.

  • Arbor Circle - Expansion of Arbor Circle’s Infant Toddler Developmental Services (ITDS). Home-based support and clinical interventions to families with children ages 0-5 where the infant’s characteristics or the parent’s condition/circumstances threaten the parent-infant attachment and healthy development. Learn more here:
  • Arbor Circle - Launch of KEEP, a program that utilizes the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) model by teaming mental health professionals with early care and education staff and families to promote positive social/emotional development of children in care.
  • Cherry Health - Home Visiting: Maternal Infant Health Program: Home Visiting for Pregnant Women and Mothers with Infants (MIHP). Learn more here:
  • Family Futures - Building Connections: Parent Coaching Combined with Developmental Screening. Connections information can be found here:
  • Family Promise - Family Engagement and Stabilization Program for homeless families.
  • Ready for School - Reach Out and Read gives young children in Kent County a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together. Learn more about the national Reach Out and Read program here:

PLAY AND LEARN COMMUNITIES: Facilitated play groups guide parents and/or caregivers with young children through group and individual play activities that model learning opportunities and build understanding of child development. Play and Learn Communities service providers were awarded a total of $705,406 for 2020.

  • Cherry Health - EatPlayGrow is an evidence-based curriculum that provides educational, engaging, and hands-on opportunities for caregivers and children to learn more about healthy development practices and how to implement them in their home. Learn more here:
  • Comprehensive Therapy Center - Therapeutic Play and Learn Groups is a series of play groups structured using the Kaleidoscope Model and the Success Basics framework. They are tailored specifically to be effective for the families of children with developmental disabilities.
  • Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) - Enrich the quality early learning experiences for young children through monthly neighborhood playgroups at 11 partnering sites. Open to all families and home-based providers.
  • Grand Rapids Community College – Continue to provide and expand Early Learning Communities (ELC) play and learn groups. Early Learning Communities is a collaborative, community-based partnership that strengthens the skills of early childhood caregivers and educators. More information can be found here:
  • Vibrant Futures - Little Learners, a Play Group-centered service designed specifically with caregivers in mind.

HEALTHY AND SAFE HOMES: Environmental health hazards in the home can contribute to lead poisoning, asthma, and unintentional injuries to young children. The Healthy and Safe Home agencies will address these issues and have been awarded a total of $493,241.

  • Cherry Health – Pediatric lead screenings.
  • Healthy Homes of West Michigan – Services include Screening Certification for home visitors and case management and navigation for high-risk homes
  • Kent County Health Department - Lead Public Education Risk Identification and Elimination Lead Services Coordination
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