Dakota County initiative earns top national award

Dakota County’s Birth to Age Eight Collaborative Initiative was recently recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that enhance services for residents.

The initiative was recognized as the top program in the children and youth category. It was also named part of NACo’s 100 Brilliant Ideas at Work, which illustrate the best innovations in county government. Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and many more.

The Birth to Eight initiative brings essential public and nonprofit community service providers in Dakota County together to assure children reach key developmental milestones from birth to age 8. The members of the initiative include school districts, nonprofits, and Dakota County Community Services, Public Health, and Social Services staff. The initiative aims to identify more at-risk children and families early, with the vision that 100 percent of identified children meet the state proficiency reading target by the spring of third grade.

“We are very proud of the partnerships that have led to the success of this initiative,” said Bonnie Brueshoff, public health director. “Having everyone at the table, working to improve outcomes for children and families in Dakota County, has been invaluable.”

The initiative also works to connect entire families to the necessary supports to succeed. It emphasizes the importance of improving academic readiness and outcomes early in life, and breaking the cycle of poverty through greater educational attainment. Aspects of the initiative include a collaborative referral process and innovative consent form, legislative action, and identifying and tracking key risk indicators for strategic intervention. One early success of the initiative has been the creation and implementation of a referral process between the county’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and school districts. The consent form allows WIC to share family contact information with school staff, who connect with parents to provide resources and services.

Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Award Program is designed to recognize innovative county government programs. Each nominee is judged on its own merits and not against other applications received.