'Help Me Grow' phone line seeks to help families

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BENNINGTON>> A new statewide phone line aims at helping families with questions about their children's health and education.

"Help Me Grow," a partnership between the state Department of Health and the Vermont 2-1-1, among others, will connect callers with trained child development specialists at no charge. The staff will be able to answer caller's questions and connect them with programs and services in their own communities.

One reason the state partnered with the existing Vermont 2-1-1 phone line system was because of its extensive database, according to Janet Kilburn, child development coordinator for the Department of Health.

"Help Me Grow's" goal, Kilburn said, is to widen the state's social safety net — measures in place to help people in hardship — by making it easier for families to get help. The initiative is geared towards families with children up to 8 years old. All calls are confidential.

"Everyone has questions when caring for a young child," Kilburn said Friday.

Parents can simply dial 2-1-1 if their child has behavior issues, she said, or are concerned whether their child is hitting milestones. They could also call if they're looking for play groups for their child.

The specialists can follow up with callers to make sure they received the assistance they need, Kilburn said. And data collected by the specialists will be used to better services across the state.

The initiative officially launched on Oct. 1. The project was funded by the Vermont Early Learning Challenge Grant.

"We know that we can do more to support families and help children lead healthy lives if we can detect developmental and behavioral issues early," Breena Holmes, director of Maternal and Child Health for the Vermont Department of Health, said in a press release announcing this week's launch. "Vermont has many strong programs and services to support young children and families, but we know that not all families get connected to the services they need. This resource will help families understand young children's behavior and development, identify if their child is at risk, and connect them to programs and supports right where they live."

Vermont is one of some 25 states with a 2-1-1 call system. The United Ways of Vermont founded the initiative in 2005.

Beth Diamond, regional resource specialist for United Ways of Vermont, said the service took over 43,000 calls in 2014.

Many people find it easier to talk to a live person than navigate dizzying phone menus, she said. And for some, not knowing what government agency or nonprofit organization to call can actually discourage them from seeking help.

Vermont 2-1-1 is a starting point for anyone needing help finding a service, Diamond said, whether it be emergency food or shelter, senior services, disability assistance or transportation services.

"There are about 950 agencies in the database, from the smallest food pantry to the largest government organization, and everything in between," she said.

A hallmark of the service is that it's constantly being updated, Diamond said.

Staff for "Help Me Grow" through Vermont's 2-1-1 phone line will be available Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Callers can leave messages after hours.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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