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Streamlined system at Early Ed Center helps parents
new slt early ed
From left to right, Cathy Estes, Susan Keeler and Judi Swagerty prepare for a team meeting at Sunflower's Early Education Center. The EEC has a new system that provides enhanced services to families. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Families seeking support from Sunflower’s Early Education Center have long relied on its expertise. And now, families can count on even more rewarding relationships with the non-profit agency’s professionals, said Cathy Estes, EEC coordinator.

"In the past," Estes said, "several EEC representatives may have paid home visits to support a baby or toddler with developmental delays. Now, a ‘primary coach’ will take the lead and call upon her colleagues when necessary."

For example, a toddler may have difficulty forming words and a speech therapist would be the primary coach.

"This coach may later learn that the youngster also needs a physical therapist for help with crawling or walking," Estes noted. "This is when the coach can call upon the expertise of an EEC colleague for guidance."

Virtually all of these services are provided in the home environment because it reveals how a child lives from day to day.

"If we observe a child having difficulty on a swing during playtime at the EEC, we can find ways to help," Estes said. "However, the child may not have a swing at home.

"So, we need to use whatever resources the parents have in the home," she noted. "We learn at the feet of the parents. They know about everyday life for the child and we don’t – until we start paying regular visits."

A few benefits of the primary-coach system are: less intrusion on family life; fewer negative consequences that can come with multiple and changing practitioners; and the ready availability of a team of early-childhood professionals that meet weekly about each youngster.

One of the key advantages to the new system, Estes noted, is that a family can now count on a special rapport with one person.

"It is amazing what we can learn by having more one-on-one time with parents," Estes said. "This relationship is crucial to a child’s development because parents will be more comfortable asking questions and seeking advice.

"We don’t need two or three people when the coach can handle the situation," Estes continued. "We evaluate each child and family to find the best ways to alleviate or overcome a developmental delay. But when we do need added insight, we can discuss the next step at our team meetings. Our staff is second to none."

The EEC employs two early-childhood special education teachers, one with a master’s degree, the other with two bachelor’s degrees; two speech-language pathologists; a doctor of physical therapy; and three early-intervention specialists, one of whom is bilingual.

In addition, Estes is a master’s level counselor and one of a few infant mental health mentors in Kansas.

This new approach is part of a national trend to better serve children and their families. The local EEC is working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which is providing staff training.

"This is happening throughout the United States," Estes said. "And we always stay up-to-date with new advancements so children can have the best in early education.

"We are finding that the primary-coach system is the best avenue to helping children," she added. "It is all part of the success of evidence-based practices."

Sunflower’s EEC is one of 37 tiny-k networks in Kansas that provides services to children ages birth to 3 at no cost. It relies on tax revenues and private donations to provide services in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.