Developmental Screening for All: A Strength-Based Approach

For the past year, Best Starts for Kids has been gathering feedback from community members and partners to better understand the successes, gaps and disparities related to developmental screening, referral and connection to services in King County. We are so excited to now share back what we heard in a week long series. Whether you are simply curious to know what developmental screening is or contributed to our information gathering, we want to share our findings with you in a transparent way to help lay the groundwork for our way forward.

Other blogs in the series can be found here:

Goal 2: Leading with Equity

Goal 3: Building a Coordinated System

Goal 4: Workforce Development

Best Starts’ vision for developmental screening, referrals and connection to services 

Best Starts for Kids believes that all King County children and families should benefit from high-quality developmental screening throughout early childhood that centers each child’s and family’s strengths, celebrates successes, and seamlessly connects them to appropriate, accessible, and timely developmental supports.  

What is developmental screening?  

Developmental screening is an important tool for building knowledge of child development for parents and child service providers and for understanding and celebrating developmental milestones. Early identification and access to services ensure that intervention is provided when the child’s developing brain is most capable of change, particularly between birth through age five.  

Ensuring smooth referrals to services and supports is another critical component of promoting positive development. Families need warm hand-offs to culturally relevant providers who have capacity to support their unique needs. Therefore, it is essential for screeners to have a diverse network of providers to refer to should families need additional developmental supports or services. 

How do we reach our vision for developmental screening?  

First, we listened to community members. 

We asked parents/caregivers, service providers and policy experts to tell us what works well and where we need to improve. To break it down, we convened:  

  • 15 interviews with 19 key informants (kinship or foster family support providers, health care providers, home-visiting providers, statewide policy experts, parents, and researchers) 
  • Nine focus groups that included 55 parents/caregivers. Six were conducted in English and three were primarily conducted in a non-English language 
  • Two interactive community forums that reached 42 parents/caregivers 
  • Three community discussions and one public sector discussion to identify priorities 

We also offered a community survey that was shared by 74 King County organizations and received 761 responses! The survey was available in English, Chinese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.  

Thank you to everyone who gave input and supported us in gathering feedback. Your contributions move this work forward!  

The following two quotes are examples of what we heard from so many amazing community members: 

“Developmental screening is very important. On a scale from 1 – 10, it’s an 11! We know that early intervention is better than remediation later. Identifying children in the community earlier and connecting them to services earlier has a whole host of [positive] outcomes.” 

Policy/Early Support for Infants and Toddlers expert

“When you start talking about a culture change, you’re talking about something really long-term. I would love to see all the major stakeholders around the county or around the state, come together in some sort of organized conversation to say, in 50 years, if King County was going to be a truly inclusive environment, what would it look like? How do we get there?” 

Family/Caregiver focus group participant

Second, we analyzed the feedback and are currently finalizing a plan for achieving our vision of comprehensive prenatal to five developmental screening, referral, and connection to services for all King County families by 2027.  

You can find a summary of our findings including links to the full report here.

Our approach is grounded in six community principles that were collectively created in collaboration with community members and other stakeholders. The ideal King County Developmental Screening, Referral and Connection to Services System will support efforts to: 

  • Build trusting relationships between families and providers that support shared decision making 
  • Be inclusive of and center children and families who are most underserved or at greatest risk of developmental delays 
  • Develop a highly skilled early care and education workforce that reflects the communities they work with 
  • Improve cross-sector communication and information sharing 
  • Address stigma associated with screening and developmental delays 
  • Build structures that center equity and are continually responsive to the needs of families 

These principles are shaping goals that we will officially share in a few months! But in the meantime here is a teaser: 

  • GOAL 1: Strength-based approach 
  • GOAL 2: Equity 
  • GOAL 3: Systems coordination 
  • GOAL 4: Workforce development 

We will be talking about these goals all week! Every day this week we’ll look more closely at one goal area and why it matters. We are so excited to build upon the developmental screening and referral pilot projects to create something that reaches everyone in the best way for them.  

Today we introduce this body of work by highlighting the first goal and our strengths-based foundational approach. 

Strength-Based Approach

It’s easy to default in speaking of development in terms of “delays” or “concerns.” However, children reach developmental milestones in their own way and at their own pace. Best Starts wants to approach developmental screening as a way for families to celebrate milestones with their kids whenever they reach those milestones. We believe we can increase awareness of brain development, neurodiversity, and health among families and providers through culturally relevant messaging and materials, and focus on strengths at the same time.  

Best Starts for Kids strives to frame kids, families, and communities as they might see themselves, focusing on the strengths and assets they bring to our work, their positive visions for our future, and their resilience in the face of systemic and institutional inequities. 

To do this, we must challenge the dominant narrative about our communities and the services and programs we support. This narrative relies on describing deficits in the communities we serve, framing negative outcomes as inevitable without intervention, and using that frame to justify providing services. This framing is rooted in racism and undermines the power of communities and grassroots movements to impact change for themselves. 

So stay tuned as we re-frame developmental screening in a strength based way and share our findings from numerous focus groups and discussions that will guide our future plan.  

Full Series

Goal 2: Leading with Equity

Goal 3: Building a Coordinated System

Goal 4: Workforce Development

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