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Early Intervention Continues to Grow

April 11, 2017
Chaotic. Disorganized. Stressful.

These are just a few of the words used to describe the lives of families with toddlers. Now imagine a toddler who needs Early Intervention. From navigating Medicaid waivers to understanding what therapies their child may need, being a new parent of a child with developmental delays is difficult to do alone.

photo of baby's feet in mom's handsThe Foothills Gateway Early Intervention team is serving 432 children and families in our community as of August 2016. To be eligible for the services Early Intervention provides, the child must be younger than three-years-old and either have an identified medical diagnoses or have at least a 25 percent delay in one of five developmental areas.

Families can be referred to the Early Intervention program by anyone who is concerned about the child’s progression and possible delays, whether grandma is calling or it comes from the Department of Human Services, the Foothills team will work to connect with the family in need and start the planning process.

Each child referred completes an evaluation to determine eligibility for Early Intervention unless there is a predetermined diagnoses. Once eligibility is confirmed planning begins on a federally mandated timeline to create and finalize the Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP) and implement services.

“IFSPs are solely family-based, it’s all based off of family concerns, what they want for their child,” Referral Contact and Service Coordinator Kelly Sokol explained.

The process of creating these service plans can be intimidating for families as they talk about both where their child is doing well and areas where they may have more challenges, but Foothills Gateway Service Coordinators work to ensure the process is comfortable.

“I like it to be more or less a conversation, definitely not an interview about what your child’s doing wrong. We go through a lot of positive things as well, and that whole document gets presented to the future provider for the case so that they have all of the background general information, as well as what the family wants to work towards,” Service Coordinator Megan Luker said.

A guiding philosophy of the Early Intervention team is supporting families where they’re at with their baby or toddler. Meaning, each case is different and approached without judgement, and beyond that, our Service Coordinators and providers literally meet the family wherever they may be.

“Supporting toddlers in their natural routines and environment, which of course over time research has shown that that’s how you support toddlers, you don’t support toddlers with traditional therapy in a clinic, you support them with interventions through their family routines,” Early Intervention Coordinator Laura Veradt said.

When services are implemented, providers such as Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists join families in their homes and use the resources the families have to accomplish the therapies needed. This way, therapies and practices can be replicated in the home throughout the week without therapists present.

“Parents are their kids’ first teachers … We’re giving families the tools they need to help their kiddo progress. We’re not the ones doing all the work,” Sokol said.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Team

The purpose of the Early Intervention program is to open a window of opportunity for families to help their children with delays to develop to their full potential and maybe prevent or decrease the need for support later on in life.

baby holding adult's fingerTo expand on this purpose, Foothills Gateway was able to create a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Team made up of specialized providers, which partners with Poudre Valley Hospital’s NICU to reach families as soon as they need services and supports.

“The whole idea behind (the NICU team) is that if you are inpatient as a NICU family, the day that you discharge you get support services… It doesn’t really help a mom who’s struggling to breastfeed if you’re going in there a week after the fact. She needed your help a week ago,” Veradt said.

This response to babies and families in need helps alleviate stress and potential problems immediately as opposed to waiting even a short period of time and letting challenges grow.

Early Intervention team members say the creation of the NICU team may have been the easiest process in all of what they do thanks to the passion and purpose that underlie the program.

“Everybody is so passionate about the need to support families in our community where they’re at and at the time that they need it,” Veradt said.

Once family eligibility is confirmed Kelly Sokol will try to meet with them in the hospital to ease their anxiety about the Early Intervention program and what supports Foothills Gateway can provide.

This process streamlines family transitions out of the NICU and into their homes. Assessments for NICU graduates happen within a few days of discharge because the NICU Team has already determined eligibility for services. Then the families can start therapies and other supports as soon as they return home.

Transitioning Out of Early Intervention

As Early Intervention supports children up to age three, Service Coordinators and families typically start thinking about transitioning to preschool or other services when the child reaches between 2 and 2 ½ years old.

“At that time we send the family a packet with an outline of what things are to come. We start talking to families about different possibilities – we want to make sure that when kiddos age out at 36-months they have all the tools and resources that they need because they can go from weekly therapy with several providers in their home to then having little to no therapy,” Lead Service Coordinator Gera Fayas explained.

Not all families have to continue services, as their child may close their delay gap, which is the core goal of Early Intervention services.

“If there are still significant delays… and it’s impacting their education, then we look at doing a preschool evaluation through the school district,” Fayas said.

The transition phase is just as individualized as the IFSPs, as every family’s transition plan will be based on their resources and preferences on moving forward with their child’s development and supports.

About 80 percent of children Foothills Gateway serves in Early Intervention will not need to continue services within the agency due to the requirement of a developmental disability diagnoses, rather than a delay.children playing in small pond

The remaining 20 percent may be eligible to receive services through the Family Support Services Program or Medicaid waivers such as, Children’s Extensive Supports, Children’s Home and Community Based Services, or Children with Autism.

The Early Intervention program continues to grow with 79 referrals received in September 2016 – more than ever before.

“We’ve added four service coordinators in the last four years and we’re going to get ready to add a fifth. So we’ll have 13 service coordinators at the beginning of 2017. It’s really amazing,” Veradt said.

The team will have to continue to grow as Larimer County does to ensure the Early Intervention program will continue to have no waitlist. They seem prepared to meet the need and continue serving their purpose in getting little ones ready for school.

The passion that lies within this team speaks for itself.

“We’re giving these families a chance… there’s a lot of other outstanding risk factors that go against their child becoming successful,” Luker said with a tear pooling in her eye. “I think the fact that we have the program that we do, and we utilize the services that we do, I think we really do merge the gap for a lot of these kiddos in order to become exactly who they should be when they get older.”

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