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Bring your child up to speed

Realizing your newborn or toddler is not developing at a normal healthy level can be alarming.

But identifying a lapse in your child's communication, fine and gross motor skills, feeding or social skills is only half the battle.

Washington state residents must also determine how and where to receive care to develop these skills.

Washington state struggles in educating parents to look for underdeveloped skills in their young children, said Jan Wrathall, King County Department of Community and Human Services early intervention program manager.

Once parents recognize their child may need attention, they often do not know who to contact for help, she said.

"Parents don't know there is a really quick place they can go that is free," Wrathall said.

The King County Department of Community and Human Services contracts with 13 agencies that offer free services to developmentally delayed children ages birth to three. In the Federal Way area, two agencies exist.

Each of the 13 agencies works with the child's family to create an individualized family services plan. This identifies the areas in which the child needs further development, said Jane Campbell, King County Department of Community and Human Services early intervention assistant division director.

Strategies for accomplishing improved communication could include getting the child to ask for a snack by name. The services provided all depend on the child's needs and his or her rate of progress, Campbell said.

"It's very family driven and is designed to consider the family's priorities," Campbell said.

The agencies are not a form of childcare. Each has a specialized staff with experience and education in how to improve developmental skills in children, Campbell said.

They all provide services such as speech and occupational therapy. Some also offer specialized services, Campbell said. Therapists and teachers visit the child's home or childcare center, and work with the children and their parents to incorporate learning into everyday activities, Campbell said.

"The whole purpose is to provide consultation and support to the family and other caregivers," Campbell said.

In some instances, a parent or guardian may bring the child to a facility that houses the therapists and teachers.

Practicing skills

Birth to Three Developmental Center, located at 35535 6th Place S.W., in Federal Way is one agency that allows for parents to bring their children to the center, receive a home visit or both.

Birth to Three Developmental Center provides services to residents in King and Pierce Counties. The center serves about 170 children a month, executive director Maryanne Barnes said.

It offers 90-minute classes that consist of snack, outside, circle and free-play sessions.

Gathered around a small table for snack time on June 26, one boy practiced his communication skills by asking for goldfish crackers while simultaneously signaling his want in sign language.

Out on the playground, Aaron Mann, 2, practiced his motor skills by gliding down the center's blue slide. At the opposite end of the playground, Stella Hare, 18 months, was encouraged by her mother to improve her social skills by joining the rest of the children in play.

The children generally attend at least one class a week; some see multiple therapists or teachers at the center, Barnes said.

"Our services are really targeted," she said.

Staff members consistently refer back to the individualized family services plan to document each child's progress. At Birth to Three Developmental Center, each child has a chart with his or her initials on it, skills and goals the family would like to see the child meet, and ways to achieve those skills and goals, Barnes said.

At least once every six months the plan will be reviewed and revised if needed.

No family turned away

At Birth to Three Developmental Center, as well as the other 12 facilities King County works with, early intervention services are offered to families at no charge, with the exception of insurance and deductible fees, Campbell said.

Children can continue to receive services until they have met the goals outlined in their individualized family services plan, Barnes said.

Funding for the services in King County is provided by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services' Disability Development Division, local school districts, Medicaid, millage money, federal funding, insurance and private donations, Campbell said.

"No family can be denied from the program if they are not able to pay," she said.

Many of the agencies are nonprofits, which allows them access to funds such as private donations and grants.

The status allows for the Birth to Three Developmental Center's uncompensated care fund. This money may be used to cover any cost not covered by medical insurance, Barnes said.

"Medical insurance was just not made to do what we do," she said.

Kim Anderson knows all too well the struggles of affording care for developmental therapy.

Her son, Devan, 2, needs to improve his occupational speech and motor skills. Anderson used to seek services at a private therapy facility in Kent, but was told by her insurance company that it would no longer cover the $3,000-per-month cost of therapy, she said.

Anderson couldn't afford to pay out of pocket, so she began bringing Devan to Birth to Three Developmental Center a year ago. Even here, she would be unable to assist her son without the help of both insurance and the center's uncompensated care fund, she said.

"I couldn't afford to come here on my own," Anderson said.

Early prevention for developmentally delayed children between the ages of birth and 3 is necessary so as to prepare children to enter into the public school system, Barnes said.

With the help of services like Birth to Three Developmental Center, children who currently have development delays will have strengthened their communication, motor and social skills and will not need additional attention by the time they are old enough to enter into public schools, Barnes said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

For more information about Birth to Three Developmental Center or to learn more about the programs it offers call (253) 874-5445 or visit the center's Web site at www.birthtothree.org.

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