New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday the receipt of $2.1 million in federal funding that is earmarked to increase developmental skills among children and decrease maternal depression in the Western New York and Long Island regions.

The state’s Council on Children and Families will partner with the New York State Department of Health and local agencies on the projects to ultimately develop a statewide model for screening children earlier for developmental delays, screening their mothers for depression and to provide needed services sooner to promote long-term success.

“All of New York’s children deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These programs help level the field by detecting problems and providing services for more children at an early age. This action brings us one step closer to a stronger and more just New York for all.”

Locally, Niagara University’s College of Education has been instrumental in bringing the child development screening program to the region. Help Me Grow Western New York will receive a portion of the funding to further cultivate a centralized comprehensive online resource database of community-based resources and services that can help address a child’s basic, educational, recreational or health needs.

The program, based on the national model established by Dr. Paul Dworkin, is a free service to Erie and Niagara county families that connects them to community resources and child development information.

HMG WNY was conceptualized in 2009 and launched in 2011. The program was re-launched in 2013, with NU’s College of Education on board, featuring a focused leadership team that includes Patricia Wrobel, the College of Education’s assistant dean for external relations, serving on its 15-person board of directors.

Twenty-five states are currently affiliated with the program.

Wrobel and Lynn Pullano, director of HMG WNY, worked with downstate colleagues to draft the federal grant proposal.

“This funding allows Help Me Grow Western New York to enhance developmental screenings, care coordination and early interventions to a statewide level by working with our colleagues in the New York State Council of Children and Families, the Department of Health, and Docs for Tots in Long Island,” said Wrobel. “It affords opportunities to reach children and families through a comprehensive statewide system.”

HMG WNY offers:

  • Information on general child development and parenting topics.
  • Referrals to community resources, such as early intervention agencies, family therapy, literacy support, mentoring and tutoring programs, parenting classes, recreational opportunities, and more.
  • Developmental screening questionnaires, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), for children ages 0 to 5 years.
  • Personalized care coordination to ensure that families successfully connect with resources.
  • Developmental activities for parents to use at home.

The New York State Education Department reports that New York ranks 49th in the country in terms of the number of developmental screenings of children up to 5 years old.

In addition to connecting families to community resources, HMG WNY creates partnerships within the community to improve the availability and quality of services for families. The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and United Way of Greater Niagara serve as principal partners in the continuing evolution of HMG WNY, thereby establishing a coordinated and collaborative communitywide effort with broad support.

“Early diagnosis and intervention is proven to be critically important to providing the best outcomes for growth and success for our children,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “This federal funding will provide additional resources to help professionals reach more children sooner.”

“This funding will provide critical support to families, pediatricians, and local agencies working to protect our children,” added Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “Improvements in screening rates will help to identify the programs and services children may need at an earlier point in their lives and will help their families tap into a support network that will assist them as their children grow. This is a good investment in the health of our children and the health of our communities.”

HMG WNY complements the Niagara University College of Education’s grant-funded Niagara County Early Child Care Quality Improvement Project, as well as the Positive Emotional Development and Learning Skills (PEDALS), another early childhood development program supported by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.

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