Innovation at Work
Scientific research indicates interactive talk is essential to early brain development and school readiness. So, in FY 2017, PEI partnered with LENA Research Foundation to launch LENA Home in five communities (Gregg, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, and Wichita counties). LENA Home uses wearable technology to measure the verbal development of children and gives feedback and encouragement to parents and caregivers to promote positive interactions with infants and young children. During its first phase, PEI providers enrolled 56 families to collect recordings of child speech to gauge vocabulary. Early results showed parents interacted with children more and had higher quality interactions. PEI providers will continue to enroll families and collect data in FY 2018.
In FY 2017, PEI funded four early childhood coalitions (in Hidalgo, Willacy, Cameron, and Starr counties; Ector and Midland counties; Tarrant County; and Bexar County) that began using accountability tools and methods to plan, track, and monitor progress toward their goals. This approach helps coalitions set and strengthen priorities, assess and forecast performance, identify factors that help or hurt their efforts, define clear strategies, and develop and execute action plans that lead to measurable success.
So far, the coalitions have identified their priorities – health, safety, and school readiness – and determined the steps to reach them. The next steps are to align individual providers’ programming and benchmarks and execute action plans. These tools and methods will give coalitions a measurable and sustainable path to improving communities. PEI is using the same approach to gain traction on interagency initiatives as well.
PEI changed the way it contracted with STAR providers to better serve youth and families. PEI worked with HHSC Procurement and Contracting Services to develop the Request for Application (RFA) approach to procuring providers rather than the more proscriptive Request for Proposal (RFP) process. An RFA is more like a grant, which gives PEI and STAR providers more flexibility and opportunities to innovate. In addition to STAR’s core services (counseling, parent skills, and youth skills classes), STAR providers can offer additional services that communities want such as fatherhood services, grandparent support groups, mentoring, and parent advocacy sessions.