United Way’s DRIVE Initiative Releases Key Findings, Recommendations to Provide Universal Access to Childhood Developmental Screening

June 14, 2022

Local early childhood experts discuss the importance of screening and the pandemic’s impact on child development

BOSTON – United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley today released the issue brief “Why We Need Developmental Screening Post-Covid: Learnings from United Way’s DRIVE Initiative.” The brief draws on data from United Way’s developmental screening initiative, DRIVE (Data and Resources Investing in Vital Early Education), to offer a series of recommendations to aid policy makers and early education leaders in strengthening and expanding the system to provide universal access to developmental screening and ensure early childhood development is a priority for post-pandemic recovery.

Prior to the pandemic, experts estimated that one in six children had a learning delay or social emotional concern, yet only 20-30% of those needs were identified before entering school. The brief found that DRIVE partners who were trained, prepared, and committed to screening kept performing developmental screenings throughout the pandemic, with more than 3,000 children screened by DRIVE partners since March 2020. The team also found that referrals should be prioritized following screening, particularly for Special Education and Early Intervention services. Lastly, data shows that children’s scores improved if they were screened multiple times over a year or more, demonstrating that rescreening is a promising strategy for continued connection.

The DRIVE brief proposes five key recommendations for post-pandemic planning to mitigate long-lasting developmental delays and make screening universally accessible: build a network of screening champions; research the effectiveness of screening resulting in receipt of needed services; foster cross-sector partnerships to explore alignment of best practices; employ technology to increase awareness and access; and invest in screening more children.

“The DRIVE issue brief provides a roadmap to ensure that developmental screening is a priority in the Commonwealth’s recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, particularly for our youngest and most vulnerable residents,” said Bob Giannino, President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “To better understand the gaps in service, discrepancies in screening results, and barriers to access for families and specific communities, we must adopt these recommendations and invest in research and technology to create a coordinated, collaborative, universal system for developmental screening.”

This morning, United Way also convened a panel of early childhood experts including Ayesha Cammaerts, Senior Manager of Community Programs at Boston Children’s Hospital; Dan Hall, MD, Pediatrician at MGH-Revere Healthcare Center; Sarita Rogers, Deputy Director of Programs at The Children’s Trust; Lilian Romero, Chief Program Officer at LEO, Inc.; and Huong Vu, a United Way DRIVE Fellow and Engagement Specialist at Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester. Panelists discussed the importance of screening tools, trends they’ve experienced in their communities, and findings from the issue brief. Speakers also shared how the pandemic has disrupted early education and care, limiting access to developmental screenings and in-person support over the last two years, contributing to social isolation and added stress for parents and caregivers.

“We need to be able to leverage all the tools we have at hand in community-based programs to fill gaps where we see them,” said Sarita Rogers, Deputy Director of Programs at The Children’s Trust. “We need to continue to work together to build a system where providers can talk to one another about what they’re seeing, what they’re learning and how we can adapt what we’re doing to meet families’ needs, especially in a virtual service delivery world.”

United Way’s DRIVE initiative has championed developmental screening for nearly 10 years. DRIVE focuses on healthy childhood development, working with early childhood providers in various sectors using a data-driven approach to enable and empower providers to make informed, strategic decisions to tailor supports and resources for children and families and ensure they enter school ready to learn. The initiative also raises awareness of the importance of screening and promotes and supports the use of data to inform program, policy, and systems change.

Screening is conducted in Screening is conducted in formal early childhood settings by providers as well as through an innovative peer-to-peer model. In the conventional model, DRIVE partners conduct screenings, gathering and aggregating data to determine the needs of individual children and assess program quality. The peer-to-peer model promotes community engagement and removes barriers to screening, in which DRIVE provides funding ocal parents to become parent screeners who conduct screenings at home visits or in neighborhood-based settings and offer resources and information for families based on screening results. Since 2014, more than 65 DRIVE partners have screened over 14,000 children in Boston and beyond.

The full DRIVE Issue Brief and a recording of the June 14 webinar are available here.