Docs for Tots

About 1 in 5 children have developmental disorders or delays in speech, cognition, or overall. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends standardized developmental screening, yet surveys show that fewer than half of health care providers screen at the recommended ages using evidenced-based screens. As a result, fewer than 30% of children with developmental disorders or delays are identified before entering school. 

Those with disorders or delays who are not identified miss out on the benefits of early intervention. That’s true, even though identifying and intervening in early childhood is the most efficient use of resources and provides the best results for families.

The nonprofit Docs for Tots is working to address the problem. As journalist Elizabeth Moore writes in her report “Minding the Gap,” “Docs for Tots doesn’t practice medicine or provide any direct services to children. Instead, it aims to strengthen the safety net for children from birth to 3. It probes for gaps and weaknesses, looks nationwide for the most proven solutions, persuades the people in charge to give those fixes a chance, and then coaches them through putting the changes in place, collecting evidence along the way to assure they are actually making a difference.” 

Docs for Tots has implemented two models to address key elements of this problem. One provides early developmental screenings; the other connects children with developmental needs to appropriate social service providers.

The first model started at the pediatric clinic of Nassau University Medical Center on Long Island and is expanding to additional federally qualified health centers in Nassau County. It works to ensure that every child receiving care at those clinics will receive an age-appropriate developmental screening. In that regard, Docs for Tots works with pediatricians and others to increase the use of standardized developmental screenings through communication, education and training, tools, and technical assistance.

The second model – Help Me Grow – expands screenings beyond pediatric settings and coordinates referrals to relevant social services for children with developmental needs. Help Me Grow is a national model that helps children 0-5 get the best start, since maximizing development during the first five years of life is crucial to later success.

Help Me Grow - Long Island is managed by Docs for Tots and offers a free developmental screening and referral service that connects children age 0-5 and their families directly to needed services.

Help Me Grow - Long Island is housed at the Child Care Council of Nassau, utilizing the phone system and resource database from United Way of Long Island’s 2-1-1 system. Help Me Grow - Long Island was created in consultation with a leadership group of 35 Long Island child-serving agencies, including the Nassau County and Suffolk County early-intervention programs, the counties’ child care councils, early childhood and family support organizations, pediatric groups, and other entities in regular contact with families with young children. As Elizabeth Moore writes, “Help Me Grow isn’t an agency, but a plan for organizing the existing ones to do a better job of reaching and helping at-risk children."

The Rauch Foundation has provided support to Docs for Tots to change pediatric practice to be more responsive to the needs of young children and their families. In doing so, the Foundation has supported the expansion of these two models on Long Island – with implications that will resonate far beyond.