New project will mine state health forms to help preschoolers

The yellow state health forms that parents have to hand in when they enroll their child in preschool or day care contain a gold mine of health data, from a child’s weight and immunizations to chronic diseases, speech problems and social-emotional development.

In a pilot program, the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut is helping eight communities and regions collect the data and run them through software so they can use it to identify and address early childhood health problems before the preschoolers enter kindergarten.

The towns in the pilot program are Middletown, Norwalk, East Hartford, Bristol, Bridgeport, Stamford, Danbury and the Eastern Highland Health District in eastern Connecticut.

The idea is to identify these problems and correct any gaps early on so these children will better prepared once they get to kindergarten.

“We understand that most kids that don’t do well in school initially have health problems or socio-emotional problems,” said Lisa Honigfeld, the institute’s vice president for health initiatives. Cognition problems only account for 6 percent of these problems, she said.

If these communities can identify these health and development problems before school, they can better target limited resources to address problems.

Currently, there is surprisingly little information available on the health status of very young children in the state and this information could help target intervention, she said.

“The dearth of early childhood health data is just alarming given how important health is in those early years,” Honigfeld said.

The institute is giving each participating community $5,000 to work with at least two child-care centers in their area to input data from the yellow forms to make an electronic file.

None of the data collected contain any identifiable information, including names, addresses or birthdays, to protect confidentiality, Honigfeld said. The yellow forms never leave the centers during the process.

The data can then be run through a software program developed by the University of Connecticut Health Center to help pinpoint gaps, trends and problems.

The child care centers participating, for instance, said they plan to use the information to determine whether children have had a physical. They also hope to use it to easily access information about allergies and track who might need an immunization or flu vaccine.

“Our hope is that the value of this will be clear and we will be able to fund the next cohort of centers also,” Honigfeld said.

The $50,000 project is being funded by The Children’s Fund of Connecticut, the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund and the Grossman Family Foundation.