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Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive!

Photo of a toddler in diapers.A Developmental and Behavioral Screening Initiative


By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood

Maximizing the health and development of children and families in the United States is an urgent priority of this Administration because we know that children who have a bright start have the best odds for a bright future. As a result, the Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Community Living, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, Health Resources and Services Administration, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Office of Special Education Programs at the Department of Education have partnered to launch Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive!, a coordinated effort to encourage developmental and behavioral screening and support for children, families, and the providers who care for them. Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! will bring communities together around four core missions: 

First, celebrating developmental milestones. Every family should look forward to celebrating their child’s first smile, first step, and first words. Regular screenings help raise awareness of a child’s development, making it easier to expect and celebrate developmental milestones.

Second, promoting universal developmental and behavioral screening. All of our children need support in the early years to make sure they stay healthy and happy. Just like hearing and vision screenings assure that children can hear and see clearly, developmental and behavioral screenings assure that children are making progress in areas such as language, social, or motor development. Screening should be a regular part of growing up.

Third, identifying possible delays early. Screenings can help children succeed in school. With regular screenings, families, teachers, and other professionals can ensure that young children get the services and supports they need as early as possible to help them thrive.

And fourth, enhancing developmental supports. Families are a child’s first and most important teacher. Combining the love and knowledge families have of their children with tools, guidance, and tips recommended by experts, can help optimize the developmental support children receive.

Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! will support the implementation of these core missions by releasing:

  1. A compendium of research-based screening tools. The compendium will contain information on screening tools such as cost, time and training needed to administer, languages they have been translated to, and populations they have been tested on.
  2. “User’s Guides” for multiple audiences, from early learning teachers to doctors, social workers, and families;
  3. A toolkit of informational resources, tip sheets, and guidance on finding help at the local level.

This multi-faceted initiative will ensure that the adults who love, work, and care for young children have an array of resources tailored to fit their needs and those of the families they serve. During Developmental Disabilities Month, we should recommit ourselves to making sure that ALL children have what they need to reach their full potential.

Please visit our website at for a full set of resources.

Linda K. Smith is the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this role she provides overall policy coordination for the Head Start and Early Head Start Program and the Child Care and Development Fund, as well as serving as the liaison with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies. Her office serves as a focal point for early childhood policy at the federal level.

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