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WORDS & PICTURES: Jessica Schubick

When families have questions or concerns about their child’s development or behavior, they may not know where to turn for guidance. The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County’s Inclusion Services department connects families with local resources to provide screenings and to help insure the child is in the least restrictive, and most appropriate, learning environment.

The best way to help a child achieve developmental milestones is to identify possible challenges and strategize with the child’s family and school early. The Early Learning Coalition (ELC) Inclusion Services team can provide assistance and consultation to child care centers and families regarding health, development, disability, and special needs issues. Techniques and strategies are shared to help children obtain the maximum benefits of their early learning experience.

Many children with behavioral or developmental disabilities miss out on opportunities for early detection and intervention prior to their entry to kindergarten. The ELC’s Screening and Assessment Specialists, Shelby Hagemann and Sarah Park, can work with families and providers to coordinate an ASQ-3 (Ages & Stages Questionnaire) screening that helps provide information about the developmental status of young children (ages one month to five years) across five areas: communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving, and personal-social.

The purpose of the screening is to ensure a child’s developmental progress will be tracked and, when necessary, proper follow-up will be offered. This screening helps determine if the child is falling behind in one or more of those areas. If the child needs further services, Tina Trivers, the ELC’s Inclusion Specialist, can help the parents by providing referrals to local agencies to get further evaluations and services.

Children younger than three who are in need of additional screening services may be referred to the Gulf Central Early Steps Program. Children above the age of three are referred to the School District of Manatee County’s Evaluation Center. Children with social-emotional needs may be referred to Centerstone or to a local developmental pediatrician for additional screenings.

The ELC also makes services available to child care providers to enhance staff’s knowledge and competence in serving children with disabilities or behavioral challenges. Tina provides trainings for child care providers that include topics such as social and emotional learning, brain development, sensory processing, and biting behaviors, among others. Through the knowledge gained during these trainings, children will benefit from being a part of a quality program.

One of the newer child care provider training programs the ELC administers is the “Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children” which promotes young children’s healthy social and emotional development. The Pyramid Model builds upon a tiered public health approach to providing universal support to all children to promote wellness, as well as targeted services to those who need more support.

Additionally, Tina provides in-class services to child care centers in Manatee County. Her “Tuesdays with Tucker” program teaches social and emotional learning skills to VPK children based on the Pyramid Model with the use of a “Tucker the Turtle” puppet. Tina is also available to provide classroom observations and to help teachers with strategies and coaching. She will provide encouragement for positive aspects of classroom skills and offer suggestions for improvement in any inclusion areas that might be lacking.

Also focusing on child care center inclusion development is the BPIECE or “Best Practices for Inclusion in Early Childhood Education” tool and training for childcare practitioners and directors. Supporting early childhood education practitioners and caregivers is an important part of the job for directors. This is especially true when practitioners are working with young children with disabilities.

The BPIECE self-assessment tool has been developed to give practitioners and directors a framework that builds a bridge between research on inclusion and practices in early childhood education settings. The results of the assessment tool will assist early education centers in self-identifying areas of strength and priorities regarding inclusive practices and assist in developing a plan to improve the quality of services, instruction, and support to all young children and their families. Tina was among those who contributed to developing the tool with the Florida Office of Early Learning.

Inclusion supports the rights of all children to participate in a natural child care setting or learning environment, regardless of their diverse abilities. The ELC’s Inclusion Services team helps promote community awareness and support for equal access to early learning opportunities for all children.

A toll-free number is available throughout the state of Florida to provide assistance and consultation regarding the inclusion of children with disabilities and special health care needs. This number is known as the “Warm Line” and is available to families and child care centers to request information relating to the special needs of children.

Parents and providers in search of information about a child’s development may contact Inclusion Services at the ELC via the contact information below for screening assistance or if they are concerned that a child is having difficulty maintaining an inclusive child care or preschool placement due to their developmental and behavioral needs.

Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County Warm Line:
(941) 757-2900 ext. 243

State of Florida Warm Line (toll-free):
(866) 357-3239

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