Background:Only 30% of parents of children aged 9-35 months report that their child received a developmental screening in the previous year. Screening rates are even lower in low-income households, where the rates of developmental delays are typically higher than those in high-income households. Seeking to evaluate ways to increase developmental screening, Text4baby, a national perinatal texting program, created an interactive text message-based version of a validated developmental screening tool for parents.

Objective: This study aimed to assess whether a text message-based developmental screening tool is usable and acceptable by low-income mothers.

Methods: Low-income mothers of infants aged 8-10 months were recruited from the Women, Infants and Children Program clinics in Prince George’s County, MD. Once enrolled, participants used text messages to receive and respond to six developmental screening questions from the Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status: Developmental Milestones. After confirming their responses, participants received the results and feedback. Project staff conducted a follow-up phone survey and invited a subset of survey respondents to attend focus groups. A representative of the County’s Infants and Toddlers Program met with or called participants whose results indicated that their infants may be behind.

Results: Eighty-one low-income mothers enrolled in the study, 93% of whom reported that their infants received Medicaid (75/81). In addition, 49% of the mothers were Hispanic/Latina (40/81) and 42% were African American (34/81). A total of 80% participated in follow-up surveys (65/81), and 14 mothers attended focus groups. All participants initiated the screening and responded to all six screening questions. Of the total, 79% immediately confirmed their responses (64/81), and 21% made one or more changes (17/81). Based on the final responses, 63% of participants received a text that the baby was “doing well” in all six developmental domains (51/81); furthermore, 37% received texts listing domains where their baby was “doing well” and one or more domains where their baby “may be behind” (30/81). All participants received a text with resources for follow-up. In a follow-up survey reaching 65 participants, all respondents said that they would like to answer screening questions again when their baby was older. All but one participant would recommend the tool to a friend and rated the experience of answering questions and receiving feedback by text as “very good” or “good.”

Conclusions: A mobile text version of a validated developmental screening tool was both usable and acceptable by low-income mothers, including those whose infants “may be behind.” Our results may inform further research on the use of the tool at older ages and options for a scalable, text-based developmental screening tool such as that in Text4baby.