In Mecklenburg County, an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 children under the age of 5 are at increased risk for a chronic, physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional condition that requires care or services beyond that generally required by children. A myriad of organizations and systems are in place to meet the needs of these children and their caregivers, but often families fall through the cracks or fail to access the full range of services due to a complex array of eligibility requirements as well as financial limitations and the social stigma attached to these programs.


Smart Start is more than a funder of child-serving agencies across Mecklenburg County. We are a collaborator, leader, and convener in Mecklenburg County’s early childhood space. Our team, together with the agencies we fund, ensure that children turn five ready to thrive.

Therefore, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County’s board of directors commissioned a study to develop a thorough understanding of the complex systems of care available to local families of children with special health care needs (CSHCN) from birth to age 5. The research found these systems are analogous to an octopus, with each tentacle having a succession of agencies devoted to serving families. As each tentacle wraps the child in services, families face a growing list of rules and potential challenges.

From this research, Taming the Octopus: An Overview of the Systems of Care for Children Under Age 5 with Special Health Care Needs in Mecklenburg County was published. The study found that Mecklenburg County has gaps in services as well as many barriers to access, preventing many children and families from getting the assistance they need. The study also outlined 5 key suggestions for ways Smart Start of Mecklenburg County can improve the system of care for CSHCN, including exploring collaborations between health care and the social services sector, increasing the availability of home visiting programs for new mothers, and developing a stronger parent-to-parent support system.In our recently published study, Taming the Octopus, we researched the systems of care for children with special health care needs (CSHCN).

Figuring out what services and treatments are available for CSHCN can be a daunting task, but there is a new program on the horizon in Mecklenburg County aiming to provide another resource.

Learn more about our funded program, Guiding Parents to Services, which now works with families using the Children’s Developmental Services Agency as they transition to CMS in this interview between Jake House, CEO, and Christian Noguera at Spectrum News.