Advocates encourage early intervention for young children

 

Two seemingly unrelated developments – the release of a report detailing Philadelphia’s shortcomings in advocating for the needs of young children, and the quickly approaching deadline for parents to fill out reassignment applications for their children – will go hand-in-hand in the coming weeks.

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Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a leading child and youth advocate organization, released a comprehensive report, “Philadelphia’s Early Intervention System: Progress, But Still Not Good Enough for Our Kids,” which listed the main contributors to the situation.

Those contributing factors range from children never being screened for developmental problems to being improperly screened once tests are administered. The report found that parents are routinely put off and don’t understand many of the programs that could help them, and that, overall, there are only a handful of accessible programs that are both high in quality and affordable.

“If the early intervention system here served children at the rate of Pittsburgh or Allentown, at least 3,000 and up to 7,000 more children would be receiving these critical services,” said PCCY Executive Director Donna Cooper, “at a time in their lives when they are developing rapidly, and many problems can be addressed.”

According to the report, the Early Intervention program provides a range of therapeutic and educational services to children and their families while they are young, reducing barriers to their independence and supporting school success, but they only work if students are enrolled in them.

“While every child with a developmental delay or disability is entitled to help from this program, many children in Philadelphia who could benefit from Early Intervention do not receive these services,” read in part the report’s findings. “The likelihood of developmental delays and disabilities is closely tied to known risk factors that include poverty, abuse or neglect, exposure to lead, low birth-weight and premature birth, and even low maternal education. In Philadelphia the combined level of risk would predict a high need for Early Intervention services – the highest in Pennsylvania.

“However, when we compared the rates of enrollment in Philadelphia vs. Pennsylvania’s other major cities (where the risk is also elevated) we found that Philadelphia ranked lowest, not highest,” the report continued “Parents and advocates for preschool-age children continue to report a mix of responses, reflective of a system under pressure that struggles to provide consistent, quality services. Transitions between providers – from Infant/Toddler Early Intervention to Preschool Early Intervention and from Preschool to Kindergarten in the School District of Philadelphia – are the most difficult for parents to navigate and too often result in breaks in services that hinder children’s growth and learning.”

The report, available from PCCY’s website – www.pccy.org – does offer a number of fixes, chief among them is educating parents and caregivers about early-life developmental milestones and increasing the capacity of care providers to offer programs geared toward intervention. The report also suggests a combining of infant/toddler and pre-school services.

The school portion of the solution should factor heavily, as parents and caregivers have only until Friday, April 19, to turn in reassignment applications. These transfers are in relation to the School District of Philadelphia’s recent decision to close two dozen schools; this allows parents to transfer their child to a school of their choice.

According to grassroots school evaluation and raking resource Great Philly Schools, the applications should be returned to the main office of the school the child currently attends. That form and other information is available online at the district’s website, http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/f/facilities-master-plan/transition-information.

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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