Testimony of Jarred Bowman, Early Childhood Policy Analyst before the Committee on Health

February 23, 2022
Testimony
Person Testifying: Jarred Bowman
Title: Early Childhood Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Health

Introduction

Good morning, Councilmember Gray and members of the Committee on Health. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it conducts this performance oversight hearing for the Department of Health (DC Health). My name is Jarred Bowman, and I serve as the Early Childhood Policy Analyst with DC Action and the Under 3 DC Coalition. DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change.

I would like to focus my testimony today on the importance of increasing access to child development specialists in pediatric primary care settings for thousands of young children in the District through the Department of Health’s (DC Health) HealthySteps program. We are grateful for the Council’s continued commitment to the health and wellness of families in DC and for the ongoing support for the important mission of HealthySteps. We believe in a truly robust system of family health care in the District that includes high quality pediatric resources and supports such as those HealthySteps provides. 

HealthySteps Brings An Important Resource To Child Wellness Visits That DC Families Enjoy

The Healthy Steps program is a family health program focused on supporting children and families during and in between visits to the pediatricians office. A national program with an evidenced-based model, the DC Healthy Steps program utilizes a continuum of services ranging from universal health screenings for all families to more intensive services provided to families most at-risk for health outcomes that could be life threatening. By situating child development specialists in the primary care setting, families are able to discuss common and complex concerns doctor’s often lack the time to address. This includes maternal depression, duration of breastfeeding, and parent-child relationships. Studies show that children who receive social-emotional screenings in the first three years are more likely to have access to long-term psychological support within their medical home that can effectively meet their individual needs. In fact, research shows that early prevention and detection of adverse childhood experiences can reduce the likelihood of risk behavior(s) later in life.

Indeed, ensuring family access to child development supports in the pediatric settings can help families address issues and be connected to more targeted supports that can make all the difference in the future. At this particular moment in the nation’s capital, the increased need for mental health support brought on by the pandemic means the integrated psychological care model provides an essential resource for families navigating healthy childhood development during such uncertain times.

The HealthySteps Expansion Is Vital to Reaching Underserved Families in DC

The Healthy Steps program under the Birth to Three expansion is currently operating in three pediatric primary care offices in the District, including Children’s National Hospital at Anacostia, and Unity Health Care off of Minnesota Avenue and  Benning Road in Southeast, DC. We are very pleased with the tremendous work DC Health has been doing to increase access to these critical services east of the river and we hope to continue to see investments there in FY22 and beyond. Due to systemic racism and structural disinvestment, the most recent data show that over 40% of Black children under 5 in Wards 7 and 8 live in poverty. In Ward 5, 22% of Latinx children under 5 live in poverty, that is, almost twice the DC average. With an estimated 10,000 children under age 5 living in poverty we know that many more families in the District stand to benefit from HealthySteps — this is why we strongly support the continued expansion of the program in communities of need.

In FY22, the Council allocated $300K to stand up at least one additional site in DC, and we have learned through DC Health that we can in fact anticipate an expansion this year. This addition to the HealthySteps expansion outlined in Birth to Three will help address issues of access and culturally competent care in the District, and will hopefully close disparities facing Black and brown mothers and their families. To that end, we highly encourage DC Health to make data on HealthySteps outcomes available to the public. We have heard scores of positive experiences from families and practitioners alike, but without access to aggregated data detailing the impact of the program on communities, we are not able to make the kinds of assessments that are needed to identify opportunities for growth and improvement District-wide. We are grateful to the HealthySteps team and their leadership of this program, and look forward to continuing to work together to promote well-rounded family health supports in the District.