Project LAUNCH Leads to Partnerships for Improving Child and Family Wellbeing

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Access to comprehensive services–including preventive health, mental health, and developmental screening services–is key to children’s success and an important component of high-quality child care. Reaching parents so they can learn about and obtain those services for their children can improve well-being and outcomes for the whole family. But even though the importance of developmental screening and other comprehensive services is well-known as a best practice, child care and early education programs struggle with identifying resources like funding, professional development, and ongoing consultation to support those services and make them more widely available to the families they serve.

In 2008, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released its first round of five-year grants under Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health). This federal grant program requires and supports community-level partnerships to improve access to screening and assessment, referral to services, prevention and wellness promotion practices, and other strategies to support children’s social and emotional well-being and mental health.

The Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF’s) Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation recently released a report summarizing the findings of its first year evaluation of Project LAUNCH, which has included 24 programs in 23 locations. The report shows that Project LAUNCH had an important impact on building cross-system partnerships, supporting two-generation initiatives, and creating models of service delivery that cut across sectors to reach families more efficiently. Specifically the first year of the evaluation study found that Project LAUNCH grantees increased access to mental health screening for families, supported social-emotional curricula and mental health consultation in child care and early education programs, and initiated a number of system building initiatives in areas such as Medicaid reimbursement policies, professional development among early childhood professionals, and improvements to early childhood data systems. In addition, Project LAUNCH grantees completed developmental screenings or assessments with 6,799 children in the first year of the program.

The report was the first in a five-year evaluation of Project LAUNCH that will look more closely at impacts on children and families reached through the grants. In the meantime, states can learn from the partnerships funded by Project LAUNCH, and build on the legacy of collaboration it was designed to inspire. To learn more about Project LAUNCH and how it can be used to support financial partnerships, see CLASP’s Putting it Together: A Guide to Financing Comprehensive Services in Child Care and Early Education.