RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recently received approval to use federal matching funds to expand services for the evidence-based early childhood program, Reach Out and Read. Research shows that children who Reach Out and Read have improved literacy and language comprehension, and clinics have improved patient-clinician relationships and well-child visit attendance. This partnership with Reach Out and Read is one of the first in the country among Medicaid programs.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the partnership through its Health Services Initiative that allows states to use federal matching funds to further an initiative in the state that improves the health of children, with a focus on low-income children that would be eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“Expanding Reach Out and Read recognizes that children’s healthy development and early literacy are intertwined,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “This program meets families where they are and through people they trust.”
Reach Out and Read partners with pediatric primary care locations to deliver training for medical providers, literacy tools for families, and to encourage healthy routines and relationships through shared stories. In every well-visit, children and families receive a “prescription for reading” with new, developmentally appropriate books to help grow children’s home libraries. Also, the guidance from medical providers helps families build resilience and lay the foundation for future healthy development and wellbeing.
“We are proud to work with partners across the state to expand Reach Out and Read in North Carolina,” said Dave Richard, Deputy Secretary for NC Medicaid. “We believe this initiative will help strengthen relationships between providers and patients, while improving both health and learning.”
This approval allows Reach Out and Read in North Carolina to access up to $3,013,000 in federal matching funds for the next two years to begin new initiatives focused on four goals:
- Extend Reach Out and Read to begin at birth: Evidence has shown that reading to babies starting at birth improves brain development, and this initiative would provide training to medical providers to begin providing books and literacy tools at birth.
- Expand Reach Out and Read to all counties in the state: Reach Out and Read currently operates in 90 counties across North Carolina. These funds will allow Reach Out and Read to establish the intervention in counties where it is not currently available and expand its footprint in counties with limited participation.
- Quality improvement: Funds will be used to improve program quality and deepen the impact of participating locations across the state.
- Research: To build more evidence of Reach Out and Read’s impact, funds will be available to help providers perform research and further professional development.
The most rapid period of development in human life happens from birth through age 8. Children’s earliest experiences are built into their bodies — shaping the brain’s architecture and creating the foundation for future health and learning. The NC Early Childhood Action Plan was launched in February 2019 by Governor Roy Cooper, created with input from more than 1,500 North Carolinians. It provides a framework to measurably improve outcomes by 2025 for children from birth through age 8, driving the state toward a vision where young children are healthier, safer and thriving.