Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania recently received grants from the Harry C. Trexler Trust, Air Products Foundation, The Will R. Beitel Childrens Community Foundation and the Leona Gruber Trust to support its Make the First Five Count program in the Lehigh Valley. Make the First Five Count is an early screening program that evaluates children under the age of five to determine if they are meeting developmental milestones.
The Harry C. Trexler Trust awarded $10,000 to support increasing the delivery of services in Allentown. Similarly, Will R. Beitel Childrens Community Foundation granted $4,000 to support program activities in Northampton County. The Air Products Foundation provided a $5,000 grant and the Leona Gruber Trust provided a $1,000 grant to fund screenings throughout the Lehigh Valley. With the grant support, we anticipate conducting 300 developmental screenings with follow-up support; conducting classes for parents; and training childcare staff, preschool teachers and human service industry professionals on how to identify early indicators of developmental delays in children under age five and what to do if a problem is suspected.
Make the First Five Count is a program that provides free developmental screenings of children from birth to age five in order to identify developmental delays, disabilities and social-emotional challenges, and connect their families to local resources to address their needs. The first five years of life are critical for brain development, so it is essential that needs are met as soon as possible during this period. Early identification and early intervention services provide the most valuable approach to promoting a child’s development during the first five years of life, and have huge academic, social and economic benefits.
Through the Make the First Five Count program, our professional child development specialists screen children for delays and disabilities using the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), which is the most trusted and most used tool for developmental screening on the market. We provide Spanish language translation during screenings and offer the ASQ in both English and Spanish. Our specialists then follow up with families to provide a detailed explanation of the results of the screening.
If a child is identified as having a possible developmental delay, disability or social/emotional problem, we provide the parent with a detailed explanation of the findings; process the referral for them with County Early Intervention or Intermediate Units; offer a clear explanation of their options; and provide activities that they can do with their child to reinforce skills development. Children who fall below the cutoff for 'typical' development, but are not identified as having a possible developmental delay, disability or social/emotional problem are monitored by one of our child development specialists and given activities parents can work on at home to reinforce skills development. Families are invited to re-screen as often as they like to see if their interventions are having the desired impact.
To reach our target audience, we have developed partnerships with community organizations that serve children like preschools, childcare centers, shelters for women and children, and government agencies serving women and children. We have several strong partnerships established throughout the Lehigh Valley, including Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers, Allentown Health Bureau, Salvation Army, Allentown 6th Street Shelter, Community Services for Children, Third Street Alliance, New Bethany Ministries, Greater Valley YMCA, Communities in Schools, Lehigh County Early Intervention Department and Northampton County Early Intervention. Access to the Make the First Five Count screening tool is also available online to all Lehigh Valley residents. Families that use the ASQ online receive the same follow up services from our child development specialist as those screened in person.
Over the past four years, we have conducted over 935 screenings. Over 700 children have been screened (some more than once with follow-up screenings) and 239 have been identified as having a possible developmental delay or disability and provided with follow-up services. An additional 224 children have been monitored, given activities parents can do at home and then rescreened to see if the interventions are having the desired impact.
As an organization, Easterseals is invested in Make the First Five Count to build awareness, provide answers and solutions to parents, and give children at risk of developmental delays, disabilities or autism the right support they need to be school-ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.