The Winter Park Health Foundation has partnered with Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW), Early Learning Coalition of Orange County (ELCOC), Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County and Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) to pilot a “texting for tots” program. The program is aimed at parents and caregivers of children ages birth to 5 years, to deliver key developmental milestone and health and wellness messages via text. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics developed the 1–5 year messages using a development-based approach to address children’s health needs in the context of family and community. With support from OCPS, HFUW will research evidence based and pre-vetted information from national resources for the birth–1 year messages.
HFUW, the Grantee, has experience with text message campaigns. HFUW successfully implemented a Going2College program which has increased the likelihood that students, especially those from lower income families, who are accepted to college during their senior year of high school will actually enroll and attend. Approximately two years ago, the HFUW in partnership with Florida Hospital also began using the texting platform to provide new moms with breastfeeding support. That initiative seeded the idea to develop a texting campaign to inform new parents about key developmental milestones, ways to create healthy habits in children, and community resources. Examples of local information could include upcoming health and wellness events through Healthy Central Florida, Kindergarten “round-ups” in elementary schools, information on emerging issues such as the Zika virus and, in case of a storm event, the locations of family friendly shelters.
These days, nearly everyone has a cell phone and texting is a primary tool for communication. According to the 2013 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, cell phone usage had risen to ninety-one (91) percent of American adults. The research also found that fifty-six (56) percent of adults used a smart phone; by 2015, that percentage had risen to sixty-four (64) percent. By 2015, nineteen (19) percent of adults relied solely on smart phones to access online services and information, and stay connected globally because they lack internet access at home or have few other options for online access. Ninety (90) percent reported they carry their cell phone with them frequently. Pew Research Center also noted those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be “smartphone-dependent.” Perhaps most importantly, according to Pew, ninety-seven (97) percent of Americans use texting at least once a day. Texting has an approximately ninety-eight (98) percent open rate making it an effective tool for educational purposes.
The Text4Tots platform is a system of “opting in” as opposed to opting out; therefore parents will be invited to initiate the text messages. A robust marketing campaign will be created with materials distributed through HFUW, the ELCOC, Orange County Healthy Start Coalition and WPHF partners including the Winter Park Memorial Hospital Baby Place, pediatricians and childcare centers serving families from Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. The ELCOC is providing funding for the creation of the marketing materials.
These are just a few examples of the messages parents and caregivers can expect to receive:
TXT4Tots: Healthy habits start now! Need ideas on how to feed your family healthy and while on a budget, visit: 1.usa.gov/rXb8gD.
TXT4Tots: Celebrate this week! Now that your toddler is 1, she is ready to drink from a cup instead of a bottle. Have fun picking out a big kid cup.
TXT4Tots: Safety tip! Look for outdoor playgrounds that have rubber matting or sand. These protect kids from getting hurt from a fall but keep them active!
Linda Sutherland, Executive Director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County, is especially excited about the program noting “Text 4 Tots has the potential to help many parents get timely and relevant information in a very user friendly manner. Most parents are hungry for information but lack the time to do research on their own. This uses an avenue they are comfortable with to deliver simple straight forward messages.”
The WPHF planning grant and pilot program extends through the end of 2016. Evaluation in the form of focus groups and surveys will help determine the effectiveness of the campaign and any issues to be addressed for ongoing implementation.
Marketing and outreach to the Winter Park Consortium child care centers is beginning now, so parents/caregivers will be alerted when they can opt-in and begin to receive these important messages. Once alerted, parents can text “Text4Tots” to 898-211 to opt-in to “Text4Tots.”
Stay tuned for more information on the Text4Tots campaign!