Early childhood intervention programs help kids, families
Monitor Staff Reports
SEVEN POINTS–Taking an intervention action very early in a child’s life can make a huge difference when that child has disabilities or developmental delays.
A state law, passed in 1981, outlines the needs and steps for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) programs in Texas, and Texas was the first state to initiate a statewide early childhood intervention program, members of the Kiwanis Club of Cedar Creek Lake heard Wednesday.
ECI programs can identify and outline treatment steps for children in early infancy (birth to three years) who have disabilities or developmental delays, Karen Meazell, Child Find Coordinator for the Tyler-based Andrews Center, told Kiwanis members.
The state agency responsible for ECI services is the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).
The Andrews Center – part of the statewide Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR) network administered by the DARS – operates about 60 programs to help children and families, usually through a host agency, such as MHMR, or some large school districts, Meazell said.
Henderson and Van Zandt counties are two of the seven counties served by the Andrews Center, which works with approximately 300,000 children across the area.
“We work with children and their families to help them reach their potential,” Meazell said.
Children identified with hearing/speech problems, physical or emotional disabilities, and medically diagnosed conditions or disorders, such as failure to thrive syndrome, are candidates for the ECI program.
“We offer services in the child’s natural environment,” she said. Working with the family in the home, services can be adjusted to fit the child’s needs as he/she grows and matures.
“It’s really important to catch children early on,” Meazell emphasized, because some disabilities or disorders can’t be addressed once the child reaches a certain age.
“I do a lot of case management where we find resources for the family,” she said. “We help them locate specialists.”
All screenings and evaluations are done at no cost. A family cost share system is in place, and families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level receive services at no cost.
No child is denied services because of a family’s inability to pay.
While the ECI program receives both state and federal funding, there is never enough money to go around, so the Andrews Center hosts fund-raisers and other activities, Meazell said.
“A lot of our kids are high-maintenance, and a lot of daycares can’t take them,” she said. “We try our best to make the families independent.”
Meazell told the group she was the mother of a special-needs child, explaining her personal experiences prompted her to go into ECI work.
“If someone told me 18 years ago I would still be changing diapers and spoon-feeding my child, I wouldn’t have listened,” she said.
Like her, some families face a choice of trying to care for the children themselves, or placing the child in an institution.
“We try to give families the resources they need,” she said. ECI programs work with children until they are 3 years old, or until the child can transition into a school or private care situation, she added.
To refer a child, contact the ECI Care Line toll-free at 1-800-250-2246. Anyone can refer a child for screening and evaluation, and children should be referred if a delay or disability is suspected, or if there are concerns about the child’s development.
For more information, check the website at www.dars.state.tx.us.
In club news, the members discussed the upcoming Kiwanis Krawfish Boil, set for noon-until dusk Saturday, April 29, at Tom Finley Park in Gun Barrel City.
Plans call for crawfish with corn and potatoes to be available, along with soft drinks and beer.
The Greater Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce also will be serving hot dogs and hamburgers.
Along with the food, there will be live music, pony rides for kids and activities throughout the afternoon.
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