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Innovative Pediatric Program HealthySteps to Double in Size Following Historic Investment

ZERO TO THREE to drive enhanced primary care expansion to reach more than 700,000 young children

Hundreds of thousands of babies and young children facing inequitable stressors will have access to enhanced primary care thanks to a new investment in one of the nation’s most innovative pediatric programs. HealthySteps, a program of leading early childhood nonprofit ZERO TO THREE, today announced a $46.5 million investment by Blue Meridian Partners that will allow the program to double in size nationwide by 2027. The announcement follows a previous $39 million investment in the program by Blue Meridian Partners.

“This is a monumental investment in a proven program that transforms the pediatric setting to improve the lives of babies, toddlers, and their families,” stated Matthew Melmed, Executive Director of ZERO TO THREE. “Our HealthySteps Specialists are meeting babies and toddlers where they are, providing comprehensive, wraparound services to provide whatever families need. Furthermore, we know this program has had a tremendous impact in areas with persistent inequities for families of color and those with low incomes. I am proud to know that we will now be able to continue to expand this important effort throughout the nation, reaching hundreds of thousands of young children and their families.”

The HealthySteps program embeds early childhood development experts (HealthySteps Specialists) in pediatric and family medicine primary care practices to help ensure that the young children in their care reach important early developmental and social-emotional milestones. This investment will more than double HealthySteps’ reach from over 350,000 children ages 0 to 3 to approximately 715,000 per year. The program’s goal is to support at least 1 million young children and their families every year by 2032, with a focus on children served by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as children without insurance.

Today’s announcement will allow the HealthySteps network to continue to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, which have resulted in a children’s mental health crisis of epic proportions. This is a major opportunity to expand access to critical services, including comprehensive child and family screening, intervention, and referrals, with an explicit focus on the millions of infants and toddlers served by Medicaid and CHIP, who are disproportionately children of color.

“As the pandemic wears on, the services provided by the extraordinary HealthySteps network are more critical than ever,” added Rahil D. Briggs, PsyD, National Director of HealthySteps. “Families with young children are navigating unprecedented challenges and a web of frequently impossible decisions. But we know that children and caregivers supported by HealthySteps receive more developmental and family needs screenings, that children are going to their well visits and receiving immunizations at a higher rate, and that families are better supported so they can give their children a successful start. Doubling the reach of the HealthySteps program over the next five years will yield tremendous results for babies and their families, and we are deeply grateful to Blue Meridian Partners for their ongoing investment in this important work.”

Launched in 1995, HealthySteps has seen recent annual growth of 15 percent, largely due to high demand for the multi-generational services offered by the program. A HealthySteps Specialist joins the team to promote nurturing parenting, which improves babies’ and toddlers’ healthy development and well-being. This evidence-based program is being adopted and supported by large and influential health systems across the country, and has continued to expand, even during COVID-19.

Currently, HealthySteps operates in more than 200 sites across 26 states and Washington, D.C. Over the last five years, HealthySteps, collaborating with local partners, has created sustainable growth strategies in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina. Continued growth is expected to come from increased federal visibility, including a first-of-its-kind $5 million investment passed by Congress in March 2022, supporting placing early childhood development experts in pediatric practices serving large numbers of children with Medicaid and CHIP, and who are uninsured.

A focus on early childhood impacts not only the health of children and families, but society at large:

  • Studies suggest that every $1 invested in early childhood programs yields a social return on investment ranging from $7 to $18.
  • Long-term benefits of investing in early childhood include increased earnings, reduced health care expenses, and even lower involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • HealthySteps generates significant savings for health care payers by improving well-child visit and immunization rates, as well as promoting access to early dental care.
  • Provider experiences are also improved – particularly important when so many are leaving the workforce altogether – as physicians say the team-based approach to care enhances their ability to effectively meet the needs of children and families they serve. The result is increased provider satisfaction, less burnout, and less pediatric staff turnover.

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