Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017, Department of Health

Yesterday, we testified during the FY17 Agency Budget Hearing for the Department of Health on the importance of perinatal and school health. Read our full remarks below.

 

Testimony of HyeSook Chung, Executive Director

DC Action for Children

Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2017

Department of Health 

Before the Committee on Health and Human Services

Council of the District of Columbia 

April 12, 2016

 

Good morning Councilmember Alexander and members of the Committee on Health and Human Services. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget for the Department of Health (DOH). My name is HyeSook Chung and I am the executive director at DC Action for Children (DC Action).  

 

DC Action provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth in order to promote policies and actions that optimize child and family well-being.

 

DC Action is the home of DC KIDS COUNT, a project that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the DC neighborhoods where children live, learn and grow. We work closely with city agencies, the school system and service providers to share the most accurate and timely data, along with clear and accessible analysis. Our advocacy agenda is based on these data.

 

The District is home to over 115,000 children under the age of 18[1]; one in four of DC's children lives in poverty.[2] Maintaining good health is necessary for all children to achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. The DOH funds, implements and oversees a variety of programs that support the health and wellness of all DC’s children and youth. We are very impressed with the department's investments for Fiscal Year 2017 as our public health leaders continue to prioritize the health needs of the next generation of Washingtonians. My testimony today will focus on two areas where we see strategic thinking and important investments in children and families: perinatal health and school health services.

 

Perinatal Health: Reducing infant mortality and improving the health of mothers and infants

DOH continues to utilize home visiting as a strategy to support parents with young children. DC Action serves on the Home Visiting Council with other advocates, community-based providers and agency leaders. This council works to strengthen the implementation of evidence-based home visiting services throughout the District by identifying best practice, providing technical assistance and monitoring outcomes data.3 We are grateful for the leadership and partnership of the DOH’s staff on the Home Visiting Council and their commitment to promoting child and family health through evidence-based home visiting services.

 

During our oversight testimony, we discussed the benefits of and challenges facing our evidence-based home visiting programs:

 

"According to the Community Health Administration’s oversight responses, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grant program provides funding to serve a total of 350 families; this includes 150 slots for Healthy Families America, 80 slots for Parents as Teachers  and 120 slots for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.[3] However, the community-based providers only have capacity to serve 275. While DC KIDS COUNT data can clearly demonstrate a need, the program enrollment data indicate that the demand for evidence-based home visiting may not align with this need given that the programs are under-enrolled and recruitment and retention of families remains challenging.

 

As a city, we must think more broadly about how we serve families with young children. This includes a systematic approach to service delivery that addresses immediate needs while focusing on long-term child and family outcomes. Evidence-based home visiting is an important strategy in this more comprehensive approach by connecting families with children aged birth to three with services and resources that support healthy growth and development and foster positive connections between children and parents. While evidence-based home visiting may not be suitable for every family, we know that these programs are an integral piece of a comprehensive early childhood system that supports children to ensure they have a healthy start and are ready to learn.

 

DOH and providers have invested heavily in building these programs and it is critical that we do all that we can to reach parents with these resources. Collectively, we must think about the opportunities we have to link families with evidence-based home visiting. To address recruitment and retention challenges of families and staff, we must think about how families obtain services: Where are the entry points? How do we make connections? How do we follow-up? How do we determine if we are giving families the most appropriate resource? These are systems-level questions and cannot and should not be limited to single programs at single agencies.[4]"

 

We are encouraged to hear that the DOH includes perinatal health as a priority for FY17 and that the department plans to leverage resources through MIECHV and the federal Title V block grants for maternal and child health in order to address disparities and improve outcomes for young children and their families.

 

School Health: improving health and academic outcomes for public school students

The DOH funds both the school nursing program and school-based health centers in DC that serve students in our public K-12 system. These services provide many students with the resources and supports they need to be healthy and ready to learn at school. We are encouraged by the department's increased focus on health equity to improve population health outcomes. To address health and academic outcome disparities, we must allocate resources in a way that best meets the needs of students. A one-size-fits-all approach in which all schools get the same health resources does not account for the varying health needs amongst student populations. In order to ensure that students in our public education system have access to vital health resources, we need a model of school-based care that is adaptive and responsive to the needs of each student population. We are glad to hear that the department is looking to reimagine school-based health resources to better match student needs.

 

As part of the process to reimagine school-based health, the DOH is conducting a school health needs assessment. DC Action has been selected to complete this assessment by June 2016. We are committed to producing a report that reflects the needs of children and identifies the strengths, challenges and opportunities to increase the impact of school-based health resources.

 

Overall, we feel that DOH's FY17 budget reflects a commitment to improving health equity in our city. We are encouraged by the department's priorities to address the roots of health disparities by targeting attention and resources to the nuanced needs of children.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.

 

 


[3] Community Health Administration, DC Department of Health. (2016). Department of Healthy FY 2015 Performance Oversight Responses, Question 11.

[4] Excerpt from Testimony of HyeSook Chung during the FY15 Performance Oversight Hearing of the Department of Health, February 19, 2016. 

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