by Kim Cauley Eckel, 2018 OCDEL Policy Fellow
In my role as the Young Child Wellness Coordinator for PA Project LAUNCH, I am continually looking for opportunities to promote the social emotional health of families through pregnancy and the first eight years of life. Project LAUNCH, which stands for Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health, is a five-year SAMHSA grant that the Commonwealth was awarded. Allegheny County serves as the local site of implementation, and following the national model for this grant, has five workgroups that meet monthly pursuing various projects related to improving the quality, accessibility and integration of services available to families with young children.
The OCDEL fellowship has not only helped make this state agency more “real” in my mind’s eye by providing the opportunity to directly engage with staff, but has provided me with a great number of insights which is directly impacting my current work leading the implementation of PA Project LAUNCH.
By virtue of being able to share coffee and chat with Deb Daulton before a fellowship meeting began, I will now be able to share Allegheny County’s work to forge cross-sector partnerships and professional development between home visiting programs and opioid centers of excellence at the state’s upcoming Home Visiting conference.
Weekly assignments that cultivate group discussion gave me the opportunity to read the insightful suggestion by one of my colleagues, that pediatricians ought to be educated on OCDEL’s statement about reducing preschool suspensions and expulsions. Project LAUNCH is in the process of creating communication pieces and professional development content for pediatricians on topics related to early childhood mental health, and unpacking the prevalence and impact of preschool suspensions and expulsions and the services that are available to support families will be a meaningful topic to add to our communication and professional development offerings.
Finally, the OCDEL fellowship provides a meaningful opportunity to hear first-hand from some of the state leaders crafting and implementing early childhood policy. During one of our sessions, I was able to dig into the substance of our state’s new ESSA plan with OCDEL staff, exploring how our state’s Future Ready PA Index now means that schools will be judged on the basis of the social emotional content delivered to students as prep for “career readiness.” The Career Readiness Indicator in our state’s index will look to see how schools prepare students on such things as self-reflection, communication and conflict resolution. These are skills that teachers can learn how to foster in their students via the professional development that LAUNCH has made available. As we announce the upcoming opportunity for this professional development that we’ll be providing to Allegheny County’s 43 school districts, our cover letter will not only help interpret what the new state ESSA plan will mean for administrators moving forward, but will frame our opportunity as a means of satisfying the requirements of this new plan.
For anyone considering this Fellowship opportunity, I highly recommend it. There are many opportunities and insights to leverage in the early childhood field by virtue of taking part.