Testimony of Jarred Bowman, Early Childhood Policy Analyst
Department of Behavioral Health
Budget Oversight Hearing
Fiscal Year 2023
Before the Committee on Health
Council of the District of Columbia
March 21, 2022
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 increasing investments in 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 with 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 early intervention 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. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s proposed budget does not include any investments in the Healthy Futures program and we believe this is a tremendous oversight. Increasing funding for the Healthy Futures program by at least $700,000 will enable the Department of Behavioral Health to make much needed updates to the program’s infrastructure, hire personnel, and increase the program’s capacity to expand by 25 to 35 additional child development facilities next fiscal year. These steps will significantly advance the agency’s efforts towards reaching all subsidy-participating child care development programs in the District.
Healthy Futures Strengthens Early Learning Programs
There are over 5,000 infants and toddlers participating in the District’s child care subsidy program. As the committee well knows, child care is an essential public good for working families and the DC economy. Child care providers and other early education professionals play an essential role in promoting city-wide systems of support for DC’s infants and toddlers, and provide one of several key settings for identifying, assessing, and implementing developmentally appropriate goals and expectations for healthy child development. This is why the Healthy Futures model is such an integral program to our city’s system of infant and toddler care.
The Healthy Futures program administered by DBH strengthens early learning communities by developing trusting relationships with teachers and families to help inform the way they promote healthy development and identify and respond to challenging behaviors of the children in their care. Additionally, this program demonstrates that adult-wellness and child-wellness are interrelated. Last year, several parents and educators shared with the Under3DC campaign some of the tremendous benefits consultants have had on helping them deal with their own stress and anxieties, giving them the tools and resources to deepen the adult-child connections by modeling the behaviors they hope to see in their little ones.
Increase Public Investments in the FY23 Budget To Give Infants and Toddlers a Fair Shot
In the fiscal year 2022 the committee on health allocated $416K to support the expansion of the Healthy Futures program in the District. We are grateful for this investment and its assistance in helping the Healthy Futures team reach 86 child development centers and homes to date, and is in the process of implementing an evaluation with an external contractor. As you can see, DBH is maximizing public investments to increase access and impact of the Healthy Futures model.
But, let us be very clear, the pandemic has harmed DC’s children, families, and early childhood educators. Due to health and safety concerns, many children ages zero to five either were removed from school settings for extended periods of time or entered into school settings much later than their families had envisioned. Ensuring that Black and brown children, who are most often disenfranchised from robust systems of support, have access to mental and behavioral health resources at the infant and toddler level requires additional public investments in the FY23 budget. Increasing funding for the Healthy Futures program by at least $700,000 will strengthen the program’s infrastructure, allow the program to reach more child care settings, and continue the evaluation of this critical program.
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.