Alright – so, Minnesota Department of Health has been awarded an autism grant from Health Resources & Services Administration. HRSA has denied this particular grant before at least once – maybe twice to MDH. What changed in HRSA’s mind – you ask. Well – MDH finally put equity and sharing the resources with minority autism community based agencies in their application.
Back two years or so ago, I asked MDH to apply for this grant which is funded under the Combat Autism Act or its new name Autism Cares Act in Congress. This Act funds millions of dollars in autism research, resources,professinal training, services and family training and advocacy just to name a few. Initially MDH wanted to send their usual application where they say – we care about equity, we understand and will DO something about it. MDH wanted the Minnesota Autism Task Force to give them a letter of support and as a member of that committee – I asked that MDH put on the application in writing how exactly they intended to do the minority autism outreach and how much of the funding would go to actual minority operated autism agencies.
Well – to say that created a problem is an understatement. MDH had no desire to put that in writing and I had no desire to sign my name into the Task Force support letter. Then came the chair of the task force back then who I personally like, but had no idea who HRSA was, what the grant was for and the sad statistic for racial autism disparity. The chair just wanted everyone to sign this letter and I stood my ground and refused. I also managed to convince all four state agency commissioners that were members of the task force to agree with me in that reducing racial health disparity is not just about talking, but about sharing resources as well as changing policy and culture. For some reason, I was also able to convince the Governor’s office of this idea. And, since all commissioners work for the governor including MDH – the health policy adviser from Gov Dayton’s office called MDH and asked them to include my language in their application.
The task force chair quit, but really no love lost there because if you are not for equity then you are for inequity and that is what creates double standard and health inequity.
The good news is now our state has been awarded this grant in company of short list of states that have such grant from the Federal government. The other good news is now MDH will HAVE to share the resources and funding with minority based/operated autism agencies that can do outreach and education for autism.
In the end, equity prevailed and poor and minority children with autism won which is what we all should want. When we share the resources and opportunities with everyone – the haves and the have-nots – everyone wins and succeeds.
Below is the explanation I got from MDH about this grant and the process for it. If you are a rural or minority based/operated autism organization – please contact MDH’s child and maternal health department to apply for this grant and/or participate in this process.
The grant goals are to:
1) Establish community teams (delegates) from three diverse communities (Somali, Hmong, Latino) to provide outreach and resources to families. We will have contracts in place for multiple people in each community to provide the outreach. The teams will get training on the signs and symptoms of ASD as well as key resources that families may need based on input from community representatives.
2) Create a resource directory that is specific to regions of MN. ICI is working on a resource directory that will identify and catalog information and resources that can be translated and eventually put up on a website (TBD).
3) Train health care providers who work with different populations around developmental screening, ASD screening and cultural issues to consider during well child care.
4) Creating an evaluation plan to monitor progress made in the grant outcomes and data points in partnership with the departments of education, human services, and DEED.
All the above activities are done in partnership with the other state agencies as well as with people from culturally diverse communities who have children with autism.
While I might have been the vocal voice – I was always surrounded by strong people who supported our cause. Therefore, I wholeheartedly thank Edward McDonald – Director of Council on Black Minnesotans, Mohamed Mohamud – Director of Somali American Parent Association, as well as commissioners of DHS, MDE and DEED.
Above words do not represent any agency, committee or candidate
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate