When our first daughter was born my wife and I decided that she would take time off from work to stay home. My wife was a teacher, and a very good one at that. She graduated from West Liberty in 2004. While she would never brag on herself, I will. She was actually the school wide co-valedictorian and the top graduate from the education department that year. She then went on to get her Masters in reading at WVU. While she was obtaining her Masters she worked with the Kaleidoscope program in Monongalia County. She was also fortunate enough to meet a very dashing, charming and handsome law student.
While my wife loves staying at home, she devoted so much time to her education and her job that she needed to do something outside of the home in order to retain her sanity. In 2011 she got the opportunity to work as a Service Coordinator with an early intervention program called West Virginia Birth to Three. I, like many, had never heard of this program, but some form of it exists in every state. The program is administered by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources along with the Bureau of Public Health and other organizations and is funded, in part, by the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
West Virginia Birth to Three is an early intervention program that is designed to provide services to children in West Virginia who are under the age of three that have developmental delays in any of the following areas: cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social and emotional development and adaptive development. Children with certain diagnosed conditions are specifically eligible.
In order to qualify, a child must first be referred to the program, which can be done by calling 1-800-642-97041-800-642-9704. While many referrals are made by pediatricians, anyone can make a referral. At that time, the child's family will be notified of the referral and will be asked if they are interested in working with the program. If they are interested an interim service coordinator meets with the family, discusses the child's needs, and sets up evaluations with specific practitioner (ex. speech therapist, physical therapist, etc.). After the evaluations are completed, a meeting is held to determine if the child is eligible for services. If eligible, the WV Birth to Three team works with the family to write goals that are specific to the child and determine what practitioners are needed to help reach the goal. The practitioners are all licensed and trained experts in their fields and many are the same therapists and counselors you would see if you went to the local hospital. Under the Birth to Three program, however, those therapists will actually come to the child's home on a regular schedule. The frequency of the sessions is primarily based on the child's specific needs. The therapists not only work with the children, but teach the family and care givers the things that they can do to help their child. The sessions can continue until the child turns 3 and transitions into another program such as public education, Head Start, or out-patient therapy or until the child no longer demonstrates the identified delays.
There are many wonderful aspects to this program. As previously mentioned, WV Birth to Three comes to the family. All services are to be held in the child's natural environment (home, daycare, etc.). Furthermore, the program is not based on any financial requirements. Any child from any socio-economic class or home environment will qualify if they have the requisite delays. The overarching idea is that early intervention for development delays helps children overcome those delays and reach their fullest potential. The result is more children who are prepared to succeed in school and beyond.
In addition to direct services for the child, the program also links families to needed community resources. These linkages include everything from accessing child care and transportation to finding support groups within the community to finding educational opportunities for the family and much more.
Many people, however, may not be aware of this helpful program. Anyone who believes that a young child may need intervention services can make a referral to the program. The program is administered locally by Regional Administrative Units. The Region 1 RAU covers Brooke, Hancock, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia, Ohio, Tyler and Wetzel Counties in Northern West Virginia and is located at the Catholic Charities building in Wheeling.
Programs like West Virginia Birth to Three receive little fanfare, but their reach is wide spread. Early intervention for development delays of any type is essential to help children reach their full potential as adults. When children reach their full potential there are fewer people who need services and assistance as adults. A little money spent now prevents a lot of money from being spent later. These days we have many arguments about the legitimate reach and size of government. Funding for programs like Birth to Three, however, is something that we should be fighting to preserve and support. The 2014 legislative session in West Virginia saw a significant cut in funding moving forward. I believe that was a mistake. If we don't take measures to protect and assist our children at an early age, we will spend more time and resources assisting or supporting them as adults.