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

Public Testimony

 

Testimony of Jarred Bowman, Early Childhood Policy Analyst

DC Action

Department of Behavioral Health Budget Oversight Hearing

Fiscal Year 2022

 Council of the District of Columbia

June 4, 2021

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 budget oversight hearing for the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH).  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. Through our signature coalitions, Under 3 DC and the DC Home Visiting Council, we empower families and communities. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being. 

I would like to focus my testimony today on the importance of increasing early childhood mental health supports for thousands of young children in the District through the Department of Behavioral Health’s (DBH) Healthy Futures 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 Healthy Futures. We believe that a truly stabilized education system includes culturally responsive resources and support, such as those Healthy Futures provides. While we look forward to learning about the on-site treatment services this budget proposes to pilot under the same name,  it’s disappointing that the Mayor’s proposed budget does not include in $675,000 in recurring, local funds for DBH to expand Healthy Futures’ popular existing services to reach all children in the District’s child care subsidy program.

DC’s Infants and Toddlers Need Public Investments In Their Health and Wellness Beyond COVID-19

There are over 5,000 infants and toddlers participating in the District’s child care subsidy program. As the District reopens, more and more families will return to child care settings. The first three years of a child’s life lay an important foundation for their long-term healthy development --- and for Black and brown children, the racial and economic gaps this pandemic has both revealed and exacerbated underscores why we should treat child care as an important opportunity to give all young children access to the support they need for a strong start in life. After over a year at home - which for infants and toddlers has been all of or most of their lives - children will need infrastructure focused on meeting their health and wellness needs. 

Healthy Futures is an evidence-based program that provides child development centers and homes (also known as child care programs) with behavioral health support services proven to promote positive outcomes and overall healthy development in the infants and toddlers participating in the District’s Child Care Subsidy Program, which serves families who need assistance with paying for child care. Research on healthy child development is clear: among other factors, an infant’s social-emotional development is the bedrock on which all later learning and relationships are built, and Healthy Futures is designed to help early learning programs support this development and build early educators’ skills in addressing behavioral health challenges in their classrooms. 

Throughout the pandemic, DBH has pivoted considerably to support child care programs and families, adapting to virtual communication platforms and offering programming designed around current needs. In addition to providing workshops, webinars, and consultations, the program staff have deepened their impact in early learning programs by continuing to facilitate needs assessments and implementation plans with program Directors, both new and existing. Much of the work done by the Healthy Futures staff includes building the capacity of staff and family members, preventing escalation of challenging behaviors and  referring students to outside support all in service of improving outcomes for the entire educational community.

There Is No Better Time To Expand Mental Health Consultations in DC’s Child Development Centers  

As the city re-opens many families will have to lean on their adaptive skills to re-adjust to life in person, relying on the skills they learned early in life. I have often shared with my own family and friends that my social skills have declined since last year, and I am relying on their grace and good nature as I adapt to the new normal. I am fortunate to have access to mental health support and plan to continue using this resource throughout the remainder of the year. But, just as we adults are reliant on resources and support systems in a post-pandemic life, so too are our infants and toddlers heavily dependent on their teachers and clinicians to ensure they can develop the appropriate social-emotional abilities to be successful in the classroom and in life. Thanks to the work of Healthy Futures consultants, over 58 child development centers have benefited from consultations to date, but there is still so much more work to do. 

With a modest increase of $675,000 to Healthy Futures’ budget, DBH can make progress on the program’s plans to reach all 238 child care subsidy programs, and identify opportunities to further strengthen the program. Funds would allow Healthy Futures to expand to 30-40 additional sites, bring on new staff, and facilitate an evaluation of the services provided to early learning programs. I urge the DC Council  to find and allocate recurring local dollars to make this possible. 

June 4, 2021