Project LAUNCH: Promoting Wellness in Early Childhood
By Rebecca A. Clay
What happens in very early childhood may set the stage for everything that follows: whether or not a child is physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively healthy throughout childhood and adulthood. Yet coordinated efforts to identify problems and promote wellness often don’t start until a child reaches school.
“That’s a shame, because research over the last decade shows that early childhood is a critical time in human development and that investments in early childhood can pay very large dividends over the lifespan,” said David de Voursney, M.P.P., a program analyst in SAMHSA’s Office of the Administrator. “But our systems are misaligned: We now recognize that we can make the greatest impact where we have the least ability to do so—very early childhood.”
Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) addresses that imbalance. Launched by SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) in 2008, the program promotes the health and well-being of children from birth to age 8. The 5-year grants currently support 18 state and tribal programs with additional funding highlighted (earmarked) in SAMHSA’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget.
“Project LAUNCH grants enhance and energize essential child-serving systems in communities throughout the country,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Project LAUNCH is a very promising approach to promoting healthy child development in a way that offers new hope to young people, families, and communities.”
Project LAUNCH brings together all the players in young children’s lives—at every level. To model collaboration for grantees, for instance, SAMHSA works in partnership with other agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administration for Children and Families, and Health Resources and Services Administration.
State and tribal agencies will also come together in Young Child Wellness Councils to improve coordination, build infrastructure, and improve methods for providing services. Most of the grant funding flows to local pilot communities,
which come together in councils of their own to find ways to enhance and integrate their own services. States and tribes will then use what the communities learn by developing broader policies and replicating successful efforts elsewhere.
“It’s not like we have the power to wave a magic wand and create one system for these kids,” said Mr. de Voursney, who helped design the program. “What the project does is coordinate between all the systems they’re in already.”
After assessing local resources and needs, the community councils create strategic plans using evidence-based prevention and health promotion strategies:
- Home visits
- Use of developmental assessments in a range of child-serving settings
- Integration of behavioral health into primary care settings
- Mental health consultation
- Family strengthening and parent skills training.
Grantees have leeway within those broad categories, said Project LAUNCH Coordinator Jennifer Oppenheim, Psy.D., a public health analyst at CMHS.
A community might already have a home visitation program, for instance, but decide that it needs to develop a better method for screening new parents to identify those who need a little extra help. Or they might opt to add another home visitor to increase their capacity to meet parents’ needs. Or grantees might give home visitors additional training in social and emotional development topics.
No matter what strategies are used, said Dr. Oppenheim, the goals remain the same: “We want to make sure that all kids are developmentally on track when they enter school, ready to learn and succeed.”
See Meeting Infants’ Needs Down East for one grantee’s story.
Learn more about Project LAUNCH.