When it comes to making sure all Georgia’s children get a great start in life, state officials recognize that some families may need a little extra help. But with thousands of children born every year, identifying those families is a challenge. A piece of Georgia public health technology is making the process a little easier.
Great Start Georgia, the state’s network of support for at-risk children age 5 and younger, uses the Central Intake Data System (CIDS), developed and operated by the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Children First program. The statewide system screens birth certificates of Georgia newborns for a host of social, environmental and medical characteristics that can affect a child’s health and development, allowing Great Start Georgia to reach the families who need its help the most.
The system is the first of its kind in the U.S. and is being held up as a national model for agencies in other states hoping to link vulnerable families to services that can improve their lives.
“Before CIDS, Georgia did not have a system of identifying our most vulnerable, high-risk families for entry into services they would need. Every county had developed and implemented its own kind of gateway into services,” said Carole Steele, administrator of prevention and family support division in the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. “That was a real burden on the time and resources of these service providers.”
CIDS lets technology do the data-mining. Built on the framework of the State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (SendSS), CIDS scans electronic birth certificates submitted by DPH’s Vital Records office for characteristics that could mean a child is at risk of poor development, such as parents’ young age, unemployment or certain genetic disorders or birth defects in the baby.
When the system identifies a risk factor, it alerts Great Start Georgia’s Information and Referral Center. Call center staff can then contact the child’s parents or caregivers to let them know about support services and refer them to local staff who can help them enroll. The services can assist with a wide range of challenges, including maternal health, child safety, school readiness and family and economic self-sufficiency. It also connects families with Great Start Georgia’s evidence-based home visiting program, which gives families hands-on help in developing safe and nurturing environments for children.
In its first year, CIDS screened records for every mother and child from birth to age 5 in the seven counties piloting Great Start Georgia – Clarke, Crisp, DeKalb, Glynn, Houston, Muscogee and Whitfield. In March 2013, less than six months after the Information and Referral Center opened in October 2012, the staff had processed 8,200 birth certificates in the seven counties and made 4,300 referrals. Now, DPH’s Children First program is expanding the system to screen birth certificates from all 159 Georgia counties.
Kelli Rayford, interim director of DPH’s Office of Child Health, said CIDS makes it far easier for programs to help the at-risk children and families they are trying to reach.
“We can identify those kids who may be at risk for poor health outcomes and get them into services earlier, which is usually the best way to either alleviate issues later on in life,” she said. “The earlier we get children into care, the better for them and their families.”