For more than a decade, the teachers and therapists at the Birth-3 Extended Campus have been helping families throughout the Farmington School District.
Few know they're there, or just what they do. But what they do is very important to families of babies and toddlers who show signs of learning disabilities or of those who help to reach some of the early milestones in a child's life. This group of six -- three teachers, two occupational therapists and a speech clinician -- are here to help those families.
Early Childhood Special Education teacher Erica Triebenbach explains the program as an early intervention service. And with some of their referrals coming when a child is still in the womb, it's about as early as it can get.
The service is open to infants, toddlers and preschoolers, ages birth to 3, with identified developmental delays. In order to identify those needs, the child is assessed in the areas of physical, cognitive, communication, social or emotional and adaptive skills.
Sometimes, the child automatically qualifies -- like if he or she is born premature and weighs 3 1/2 pounds or less, or if he or she has been diagnosed with a medical condition that hinders development, like Down Syndrome.
If the child needs an assessment, a pair of staff members -- an ECSE teacher and an occupational therapist or the speech clinician, and occasionally all three -- will come into the family home. Though the child may only exhibit one or two delays, the assessment must cover all five skill areas, due to state requirements.
If the results show that the child has signs of development delays, the Birth-3 staff will work together to build a specific plan for the child and the family.
Working at home
Most of the work the Birth-3 staff does with a family actually happens in the family home. Besides wanting to keep the infant or toddler in his or her natural environment, this enables the staff to educate the family on how they can help the child, as well.
"This way we can work with the family -- parents, grandparents, siblings -- and teach them how to deal with a child with a disability," explained Triebenbach. "Our biggest goal is to empower parents to be parents, and to help them deal with their own emotions and helping them teach their child to be as successful as they can be."
Each child gets his or her own development program, which means if the staff is working with a set of twins -- often multiples are born premature and have low birth weights -- the plans are set up to meet each child's specific needs. From the time they set up the first meeting, those plans are set within a 45-day window of time.
The staff meet with the families, usually about once a week. The frequency depends on the child's needs. To stay in line with state requirements, the staff conduct several assessments each year to monitor the child's progress. If necessary, the program is altered to help the child advance. It also helps to keep track of eligibility. And, the staff meet with the child and family year-round -- including the summer months.
There is one classroom at the Extended Campus office on Third Street. It's a transitional classroom of sorts, where children around 2 1/2 years old are gradually brought in to be around others, helping to teach some social skills.
If necessary, as a child crosses into his or her third year and is no longer eligible for the Birth-3 program, all of the records are passed on to the School District 192 special education staff, who can then use those records as a point of reference to further that child's development.
When the program began about a decade ago, there were only 33 referrals in the first year. Last year, there were 203.
Over the years, the Birth-3 staff have developed relationships with area doctors, who know to recommend the service -- which is free to anyone in the school district -- and to do so as soon as possible. The youngest client ECSE teacher Jenny Carlson has had was one week old.
"Our goal is to get the intervention going as soon as possible," Carlson said.
Parents who suspect their children may have developmental disabilities or who would just like more information are asked to call the Birth-3 staff at 651-460-3289.