BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
EDGEWOOD -- There are 200 Northern Kentucky children under the age of 3 now receiving early help with developmental delays and disabilities through a statewide program called First Steps.
Organizers of the early intervention program say there are hundreds more children and families that might qualify for the free services if they knew how to access them.
"We did a study of the counties we cover, and we know there are probably many more families out there," said Mary Carol, initial service coordinator.
Mandated under federal law, the program is unique in Northern Kentucky because of the community partnerships that make it work. Ms. Carol helps evaluate a child's needs at the Point of Entry center in Edgewood. She works with St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Comprehensive Care and the Northern Kentucky Area District Health Department to make sure a child and his family receive the appropriate assessments.
If a child shows a significant delay in an area of learning such as speech or hearing, or if a child has an established risk symptom like Down syndrome, he will qualify for help.
That help is provided by organizations in the Northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Owen and Pendleton.
First Steps coordinators said they provide services for these reasons:
Typically, there is significant improvement in development and learning in children who participate in early intervention. A child with a delay or a condition that is likely to cause delay should not go through the critical development stage without help.
Services and support help families by reducing stress.
Early intervention services often decrease the need for later costly special education programs.
Depending on a child's needs, organizations such as Easter Seals, hospitals, New Perceptions, the Redwood School and Rehabilitation Center and the Cincinnati Association for the Blind are contacted for help.
There are also partnerships with parents whose children have received services from the program, as well as connections with local universities to ensure the best care.
First Steps contracts with these agencies to provide services, Nancy Cully, technical consultant, said.
Services include medical and nursing assistance, nutrition consulting, occupational therapy, physical therapy, developmental intervention, communication development and vision and hearing services.
For more information about First Steps call 341-8866 or 1-800-442-0087.