Library partnership grows early childhood screening program

Libraries can be a magical place for children, and one of the most magical times is storytime. You can feel the excitement when you walk into a room full of toddlers and preschoolers captivated by someone enthusiastically reading a classic children’s book.

And now, thanks to a partnership with Help Me Grow South Carolina, when they come to storytime, children also can be observed for social and emotional skills, communication skills, learning and movement or physical development that could affect their ability to have a successful future.

One way to reach more parents with its free developmental screening tool is by partnering with other entities already reaching parents of young children. Storytime at the Charleston County Public Library was a natural fit.

This partnership grew from a relationship that formed during Healthy Tri-County, a collaboration aimed at improving health outcomes in the region. Powered by Trident United Way, core partners in the effort include MUSC Health and Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

Help Me Grow South Carolina, a Trident United Way partner and previous Community Engagement Grant recipient in 2016, is working to improve developmental screening rates for children 5 1/2 years and under. Screenings not only identify potential development delays but help parents learn more about how to promote healthy development and key milestones.

“This affects everything. In South Carolina, kids are not ready for school. Providing ongoing screening and connection to services for those kids who need extra support is critical so they can arrive at school ready to learn,” explained Tiffany Howard, program coordinator for Help Me Grow South Carolina.

Only 32.6% of South Carolina parents completed a standardized developmental screening tool, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health, and Help Me Grow Carolina is looking to change that.

In the spring of 2019, Help Me Grow hosted Read, Rattle & Roll at four library branches, piggybacking on planned storytime events. Children enjoy fun and interactive play areas focused on learning, behavior and development. Parents learn how these interactions stimulate their child’s development and complete a short questionnaire that will help identify their child's strengths or areas where extra support may be needed.

The results are sent to care coordinators who review the screenings and follow up with parents if there’s an area that warrants monitoring or further evaluation, explained Vanessa Newhart, resource and event coordinator for Help Me Grow South Carolina.

Devon Andrews, library programming manager, said the partnership made perfect sense and was another way for libraries to add value to the local community.

“We’re excited to keep this going. It’s so important,” Andrews said. “There are always going to be babies and toddlers, so there’s always going to be a need for this.”

More than 30 children were screened during the four springtime sessions, and screenings are planned for storytime events at four other branches this fall.


Photo credits: Lynn Michell Lind, Town & County Photography for Help Me Grow SC