• 79°

Excel By 5 hosts event

Representatives from area organizations that provide early childhood intervention spoke to the LOU Excel By 5 Coalition on Tuesday in hopes of getting the word out about what they do in the community.

The panelists consisted of Jamie Flanigan, area social worker supervisor with Lafayette County Department of Human Services; Lora Leigh Cockrell, regional adoption supervisor with Lafayette County DHS; Sandy Rogers, executive director of Communicare; Sherra Jones, senior health program specialist with First Steps Early Intervention; and Darlene Hoar, former director of Project RUN.

Each panelist spent a couple of minutes explaining her organization’s impact in the community as well as what she does for the group.

Excel By 5 is a Mississippi organization that provides communities with

guidelines to follow to support children from birth to age 5. Candidate communities that meet the guidelines are officially recognized as early-childhood certified communities. Oxford received its certification in 2013.

When asked about the impact that their programs make in the community, Cockrell said the foster and adoptive parents who work through DHS make the strongest impact.

“We call foster parents resource parents now, because they are a huge resource to our community,” she said. “They wear so many hats and are helping us to find permanency for our children.”

First Steps helps children birth through 3 years old who are experiencing delays in speech, motor, vision or hearing development. Jones said getting help to a child early on can make an impact on his or her life and also the community.

“When a child is struggling with communication, and it’s left untreated, it can eventually present itself as a behavioral problem,” she said. “We’re making an impact by working with the child so when they show up for school, they’re ready to engage in learning.”

Studies have clearly shown that a child’s brain grows the most rapidly from birth through the age of 5.

Each organization has its successes and challenges when trying to assist the children, and their families, in Lafayette County.

Project RUN is part of North Mississippi Regional Center and also provides early intervention services to infants and children from birth to age three who are experiencing developmental delays. Hoar said for her, the biggest success is when a child graduates from her program.

“It’s very exciting when that child can move on before they’re 3 years old because they’re no longer having that development delay,” Hoar said.

Rogers said it’s the individual successes at Communicare that keeps her motivated. Communicare offers mental health services for all area children.

“Everyone up here on the panel works with very difficult situations and the individual successes help us keep focused,” she said.

Along with successes, there are challenges each day. Most of the panelists agreed funding is a common challenge for them. A primary challenge for DHS is often needing more adoptive and foster parents.

“A number of children we take in custody don’t have appropriate family members to place them with,” Flanigan said.

Many foster families who take in children decide to adopt, leaving their household full.

Cockrell some people shy away from being foster parents in fear of the child eventually leaving their home after they’ve come to love them.

“That’s exactly the kind of parent we want,” Cockrell said. “Someone who will love these children and miss them when they’re gone. We need more families to be a bridge to our birth families and a model on how to do things.”

Jones said a challenge for her is time.

“There’s only eight hours in a day,” she said. “You try to respond to every phone call and every need there is.”

Having a pool of providers to assist the organizations is also a concern among most of the panelists – speech therapists, occupational therapists, mental health therapists, doctors and more.

“Funding is so limited and has decreased over the years,” Hoar said. “There just isn’t enough providers.”

The panelists and Excel By 5 members discussed ways to help promote the agencies and how to get the word out to the public. Some suggested speaking to local pediatricians who are often the first person a parent will express concern over their child’s development.

“I’ve had parents tell me they went to their doctor but they were told to wait and see what happens,” Jones said. “If you wait until the child is over 3, it’s much harder to get that child back on track before they start school.”

Hoar said most parents don’t realize they can contact many programs like First Steps and Project RUN directly.

“You don’t have to wait for a doctor to refer you,” she said.