“We hear the question, ‘What did I do wrong?’ a lot. You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just for whatever reason. Kids are kids.” — Cindy Wright

For parents who take a child to the pediatrician and hear that the child is behind in an area of development, or for those who watch their child at daycare or another area with kids their age and notice a difference in progress, it can be difficult to know what to do next.

The coronavirus pandemic has interfered with many typical activities and interactions. However, life goes on despite the pandemic, and Early Intervention services are still key to helping children who struggle developmentally.

Officials from the McKean County Department of Health Services report that referrals are down during the pandemic, and even those who have been referred are hard to reach.

Early Intervention staff and the service providers they work with have all adjusted to the pandemic restrictions, wearing masks whenever possible and incorporating telecommunication for services as well. Karen Abbott, program specialist with the McKean County DHS, explained that all efforts are being made to keep families safe while still maintaining services for the child.

“Currently, our caseworkers haven’t been going into homes because of Covid. They offer tele-intervention over computer or telephone, and they have done a phenomenal job to make sure kids keep up on skills and don’t lose what they’ve gained,” Abbott explained.

Abbott also noted that service providers who have to make in-person visits are wearing masks, although speech therapy does require mask removal to allow the patient to see the mouth of the service provider.

Early Intervention provides services for children from birth to age 3.

A requirement for assistance is the child has a 25% deficit or greater developmentally. If that is the case, they will receive assistance in coordinating services and ensuring the child is connected with a provider that is the right fit.

Cindy Wright, lead service worker for Early Intervention in McKean County, explained there are certain age ranges where referrals are most common, although services are available at any time between birth and age 3.

“There’s a pocket around one-year-old. They are up walking, doing other things and have basic skills but at a year, it’s those more refined things,” Wright said. “The 24-28 month old range — that’s a large group. It’s really that ‘Oh my gosh, this child is heading toward three and not saying a lot. We get referrals for all age groups, those are three of the clusters we get.”

Not only can Early Intervention help determine what help is needed and put parents in touch with the right provider; they can also help families understand that the child’s progress is not a result of something parents did or didn’t do.

“The majority of referrals we get are for communication. Parents will ask, ‘Well why?’

We don’t have a reason why. Many times you can’t figure it out,” Wright said. “They are individuals. That is the best thing about our program, is that we work on the individual needs of the child and what the parent wants us to focus on.”

Abbott explained there are various options when it comes to providers for the services needed. Services can include speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and special instruction, which includes a focus on specific tasks such as building items, assisting with orientation to rooms and helping with the navigation of steps.

Caseworkers from Early Intervention check in to make sure the child is benefiting from the provider chosen. If that provider is not the right match, there are others to try.

Some providers in the area that partner with the Early Intervention team include CARE for Children, Milestones and the Guidance Center.

For those who believe their child could benefit from such services, the first step is to reach out. Brochures are available in various locations, such as local pediatric offices, and flyers are posted in locations where the children regularly visit.

“We put up flyers in area businesses; churches, schools, head start programs, daycares.

Anywhere there are little ones, we try to get there,” Abbott explained. “You don’t know until you need help, and then you don’t know where to go.“

Wright noted that some people hesitate to call, thinking they won’t be eligible for services due to financial restrictions.

“Anyone can have a child who has a need for services. So many people might see the brochure out somewhere and think ‘I’m over income for that, I’m not eligible.’ We don’t have an income guideline,” Wright said.

Early Intervention can be reached by calling 814-975-1221 for McKean County or 800-800-2560 for Potter County residents.