Cathy Estes and her colleagues have always appreciated physicians who refer children to Sunflower Diversified Services’ Early Education Center (EEC) when a developmental delay is suspected or a medical problem needs intervention.
But Estes, children’s services coordinator, wanted to streamline the process and designed a one-page referral form for busy doctors’ offices.
“We came up with a simple form that can be faxed,” Estes explained. “Phone calls, especially if phone tag is involved, can waste valuable time. This form allows a doctor to quickly communicate with us so the child can be evaluated sooner.
“We think this will pay off in the short term and the long term,” she added. “Our area doctors want to seek our help and we want to make it easier for them.”
The new form, a thank-you letter and brochure were hand-delivered to 18 doctors’ offices throughout Sunflower’s service area – Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties.
“Our early education staff members travel to these counties regularly for home visits with children and their families,” Estes noted. “We took advantage of that proximity and stopped in to show our appreciation and encourage future referrals.”
In addition, the letters and forms were mailed to pediatricians in Hays and Hutchinson.
Since health-care providers are concerned about their patients, EEC staff members follow up with them after a referral, Estes said.
“If a child qualifies for our early intervention services, we let the doctor know,” Estes said. “We want everyone involved to know about the services and outcomes – whether it be physical therapy, speech therapy or other programs.
“And we also let the doctor know if parents decline our services for a child who qualifies,” she added.
Physicians oftentimes rely on the EEC staff because “we are in the children’s homes on a regular basis,” Estes commented. “Our early education professionals see how a child performs in a natural setting, which gives them insight into how a child is developing.
“In turn,” she elaborated, “EEC relies on the medical community to assist us with needs beyond our expertise. It is truly a collaborative effort to benefit the whole child. We can visit with parents one-on-one and discover what is most important to them about a child’s development.”
During the last 15 months, doctors have referred 29 children to the EEC; 148 other referrals came from parents, St. Francis Community Services, health-care facilities, day care centers, Parents as Teachers and other early childhood partners.
“We are gratified with this kind of cooperation from our community partners,” Estes said. “These relationships allow us to screen children early when there are concerns about speech, cognition, motor skills, self-help skills, vision or hearing. We also evaluate social/emotional skills, which are crucial to overall development.
“Local teamwork often means that a child’s delay can be at least alleviated if not overcome,” Estes said. “And this often means that special education is not necessary later on.”
Sunflower’s EEC is part of the tiny-k infant/toddler program in Kansas; it is a non-profit entity and services are free.