Testimony of Jarred Bowman, Early Childhood Policy Analyst DC Action

January 24, 2022
Testimony
Person Testifying: Jarred Bowman
Title: Early Childhood Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Department of Behavioral Health
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing

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 for the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH). My name is Jarred Bowman, and I am the Early Childhood Policy Analyst with DC Action and the Under 3 DC Campaign.

DC Action provides data analysis, policy leadership, and collective advocacy on critical issues facing DC children and youth. DC Action is also a part of the Under 3 DC Coalition which is committed to transforming how DC invests in infants, toddlers, and families starting prenatally through age three. I would like to focus my testimony today on the importance of early childhood and teacher-focused behavioral health supports for thousands of young children in the District through the Department of Behavioral Health’s (DBH) Healthy Futures program.

Healthy Futures Promotes Positive Healthy Development in DC’s Infants and Toddlers

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 Healthy Futures. Healthy Futures is an evidence-based program that offers child development centers and homes that are participating in our District’s Child Care Subsidy Program the behavioral health services and supports that are proven to promote positive healthy development in infants and toddlers growing up in DC. More specifically, Healthy Futures focuses on offering child focused consultation services to early educators and family members to build their skills and capacity to promote social-emotional development, prevent escalation of infants’ and toddlers’ challenging behaviors, and increase appropriate referrals for additional assessments and services.

Early learning programs are in year three of the pandemic, navigating an ever changing landscape of norms and expectations that requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. Fortunately, studies show that, when early learning programs participate in Healthy Futures, children gain important social-emotional skills that lead to self-regulation, emotional problem solving, and positive peer and staff interactions. In one evaluation of the District’s Healthy Futures program, researchers found statistically significant evidence to show that the emotional climate of the early learning settings improved substantially with support from a Healthy Futures behavioral health consultant.

We applaud the data that Healthy Futures has made available underscoring the positive impact of the program on the early learning community, particularly reductions in exclusionary disciplinary actions that disproportionately affects Black and brown students. We hope to see the results of the evaluation that DBH is conducting, and strongly support recurring investments in DBH’s budget to allow for annual assessments that can provide deeper analysis of trends that appear within child care settings each year and greater understanding of the program’s successes and opportunities for strengthening.

Public Investments in Healthy Futures Have Strengthened and Expanded Existing Services To Reach More Early Learning Programs

In fiscal year 2022, the Council increased the Healthy Futures Program budget by $416K, enabling the Department of Behavioral Health to continue the expansion of mental health services in subsidized child care development centers and homes throughout the city. This increase in the Healthy Futures budget has enabled DBH to hire several more consultants and begin work on a needed evaluation of the program (the last evaluation was in 2015).

To date, DBH has expanded to 89 child care programs in the District, just less than half of the way on the agency’s goal of reaching all 264 child care facilities subsidy participating in the child care subsidy program. This is particularly noteworthy as many experts indicate a significant workforce shortage facing the behavioral health field. Despite these obstacles, the Healthy Futures team continues to build strong connections with centers and finds high-quality consultants committed to supporting Black and brown communities.

We strongly support the full funding and implementation of the Healthy Futures expansion as we’ve heard providers, teachers, and parents talk about the impact that consultants have had on building a positive climate and culture in early learning communities. When I taught middle school science, under far less stressful conditions, I learned fairly quickly that my students’ success and well-being was connected to my wellness and my capacity to see them through whatever challenges they faced. Our infants and toddlers will soon become our city’s brightest leaders, and we have to see them through this difficult time in our city and the world’s history.

Finally, as the District Early Educator Compensation Task Force begins to address the workforce challenges facing our early learning community, Healthy Futures is also an important tool to help early educators improve their capacity to support children and families, and provide them with ongoing support to resolve their own individual stress and anxiety. To retain a strong and talented workforce, the District must invest in both fair compensation and quality working conditions.

Conclusion

As personal stressors mount and as young children’s stressful experiences begin to show up in the home and in the classroom, the supports Healthy Futures provides are needed to address harmful behaviors that can have lasting impacts on the future of our children and the strength of our early education community. The District’s young children and their educators are counting on the Mayor and DC Council to continue to support DBH in its goal to reach all subsidized care facilities in the District of Columbia.