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Early Bird: A Pilot to Improve Children’s Health & Educational Attainment

April 22, 2022

This blog post is authored by Laura Rosen, director of programs at The Impact Factory, Sajani Patel, a fourth-year medical student at Dell Medical School, and Parth Malaviya, a biomedical engineering undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Impact Factory — a collaboration between Dell Medical School and the LBJ School of Public Affairs that fosters social innovation, entrepreneurship and service-learning at The University of Texas at Austin — has partnered with United Way for Greater Austin, Foundation Communities, my529 and Lone Star Circle of Care to launch Early Bird. Early Bird is a health system-integrated scholarship program for children in poverty, and it is a part of several clinics in Central Texas. As low-income families achieve program milestones, such as attending well-child visits or enrolling in prekindergarten, Early Bird puts up to $500 in their child’s 529 savings account for higher education. Early Bird, which is being evaluated by a randomized control trial, aims to improve families’ health, education and financial outcomes.

From October 2020 to December 2021, Early Bird enrolled over 260 mothers and children. In addition to opening and seeding savings accounts with scholarships, Early Bird provides financial coaching and help navigating pre-K enrollment. The scholarship monies earn interest, growing over time until dispersed to the higher education institution of the child’s choosing.

Programs like Early Bird, also called children’s savings account programs, are linked to benefits for children and families, including positive impacts on mothers’ mental health, parents’ educational expectations for their child, and parents’ access to mainstream financial institutions.

While over 30 state and city governments support families with children’s savings account programs, they are rarely offered through health systems. This makes Early Bird unique alongside Oakland’s Brilliant Baby program, which has found early positive impact on families’ financial well-being and expectations for their children’s educational attainment.

Early Bird exemplifies how America’s health care system can pursue non-medical partnerships to improve health, education and financial outcomes.