A few months ago, we shared a story about Diego. He was three years old when his mother connected to Victoria Paulino, one of our Lead Navigators. Diego (not his real name) had a diagnosis of autism. He had been in preschool, receiving important support services. But the family had moved, and now he wasn’t in preschool anymore. What had happened?
Diego’s family was referred to Victoria through a unique partnership between EdNavigator and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), a community healthcare provider in Boston, MA. When Victoria received the information from Diego’s pediatrician, she called Diego’s mother and got to work getting Diego back to school.
Why Reach Families at the Pediatrician’s Office?
Over the last two years, we’ve received more than 900 referrals much like this one. When a pediatrician at EBNHC or another Boston-based healthcare provider, Boston Medical Center, identifies a school-related challenge facing one of their patients, they send them to EdNavigator—just like they might to any other specialist. The family gets a call from their new Navigator, a former teacher or school leader with the expertise to help troubleshoot whatever barriers stand in the way of their child thriving in school.
Like Diego’s mom, many families need support with school enrollment, or ensuring that their children’s special education needs are met. The vast majority speak a primary language other than English. No matter the scale of the challenge they face, families love having a caring guide by their side; in surveys, 92 percent of participating families say they would be highly likely to recommend EdNavigator to a friend or colleague.
We think this approach to integrating health care and education holds tremendous promise: It creates a much-needed bridge between two complex systems where families often get lost. It also comes at a critical moment. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, families of school-aged children are grappling with overlapping challenges—learning delays, mental health issues, school absenteeism, and more. Addressing these challenges requires an urgent, coordinated approach.
Parents trust pediatricians more than almost any other source of advice on parenting, and the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically encourages practitioners to address school-related issues their patients may be experiencing. Yet 87 percent of pediatricians report that they do not have enough time to discuss school difficulties during well-child visits, and 90 percent say they lack clear guidelines for helping children facing these challenges. By partnering with EdNavigator for follow-up educational support, care providers can stay focused on their patients’ health, while ensuring families don’t get lost in the cracks between the clinic and the classroom.
We believe this strategy holds so much promise that it needs to be our primary focus. This is a change for us. Since EdNavigator’s start in 2015, we’ve provided education support primarily as a workplace benefit, reaching thousands of families along the way. Now, we will be shifting away from that strategy.
Over the coming months, we’ll be winding down our partnerships with hotels, universities, and other employers in order to scale up our pediatric partnerships. This summer, we’ll be launching new partnerships with two top-ranked pediatric care providers: Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, CA. Navigators will begin working with families from both hospital systems beginning in August. We’re looking forward to meeting our new families and getting right to work with them.
While our delivery mechanism is changing, our focus remains the same: providing easy access to high-impact education support for the families that need it most. We believe partnering with healthcare providers is the best way to do it.
In addition to offering direct, 1:1 support that helps individual students get better educational outcomes, we are also committed to illuminating the policy and process barriers that our Navigators witness over and over again in their work with families, and which undoubtedly hamper many more students and families on their educational journeys. In the coming weeks, we plan to share our first analysis of family experiences with Boston-area school systems, including recommendations for simple, common-sense changes that could improve equity and outcomes for students right away.
What Happened to Diego?
That includes students like Diego. Victoria discovered that he had a special education support plan on file at his former school district—but the information had been communicated to his mother only in English, keeping her in the dark about how to get her son the support he needed in their new district (and violating her legal rights). With Victoria’s support, Diego’s mom was able to enroll him in a preschool classroom for students with significant disabilities near their new home. After more than two months out of school, Diego was back in the classroom, learning.
That’s a great outcome for Diego. But a better outcome would have been no disruption of his schooling in the first place. By expanding our partnerships with pediatric practices, our goal is to make that the rule—not the exception.