Aug 9, 2017 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterThis year's Native American Education Conference kicked off Tuesday with a variety of sessions and activities for educators, students, parents and other individuals who work closely with native youth in Wyoming and elsewhere.
The Wyoming Department of Education hosted this year's conference at St. Stephen's Indian School.
One session during the two-day event focused on early interventions for students.
Laurene Hines led the talk, "Best Kept Secret on the Reservation: Early Intervention," highlighting all of the free services available to families through the Fort Washakie Early Intervention Program of Child Development Services.
Early intervention is important because it improves brain and neural development, promotes a foundation for development for learning, and helps identify any signs of problems with vision or hearing, Hines said.
Barriers to education start early and "grow even more" without intervention, she explained.
Ninety percent of brain development happens before age 3, Hines said; more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second after birth.
Parents or guardians can visit her office at 9 Shipton Lane, but early intervention specialists also visit pre-schools, homes, daycares and other locations to assess a child's language, motor skills, self-help skills, and social, emotional and cognitive development.
They also visit children at Head Start or Early Head Start locations.
"We will screen anywhere," Hines said. "We are spanning quite a bit."
CDS has a "holistic approach" with services when it comes to infants and toddlers, Hines explained. From 3 to 6 years of age, they begin to watch any growth.
CDS determines if the child needs additional services and conducts a series of sessions with children to help them improve. Specialists also watch to see how any disabilities are impacting a child's overall education. They conduct close observations and consistent screenings and assessments, and track the child's improvement and expectations.
They also provide early childhood special education, speech language therapy, occupational therapy and mental health services.
If they qualify, parents receive the services at no cost.
"Our No. 1 goal is to reduce the number of resources she or he will need as they transition to kindergarten or no services at all," Hines said.
Staff members work through tiers of intervention, she said, and partner with school districts and other local agencies, such as Indian Health Services; Women, Infants and Children; the Department of Family Services; Public Health; pediatric offices; and the Wind River Family and Community Health Center who work with the same families.
Their office has a licensed mental health clinician so they're able to help children who have dealt with some kind of trauma. They also provide support in social and mental health and begin visiting with families from the prenatal stage until the pre-school age.
"It's important to reach children early in life for the lasting impact for later in life," Hines said.
When children receive help and parents get support, children are less likely to commit crimes, drop out of school or live in poverty, Hines said, which in turn can benefit not only the family but society as well. Through studies from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the more problems young children face, the greater chance of a developmental delay. Early intervention provides support for these delays, Hines said.
Parents as Teachers
Parents as Teachers, a part out of the Early Intervention Program, targets parents to help improve the well-being of children. In September 2016, Parents as Teachers received federal funding from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.
The Parents as Teachers home visitation services are available in Fremont County but primarily on the Wind River Indian Reservation, supervisor Stephanie Ghormley said.
Those who qualify are usually pregnant and under 21, a child or family member who has developmental delays or disabilities, comes from a family with low student achievement, and has low income and receives benefits through WIC, food stamps, TANF or Medicaid.
Priority populations also include families with current, or a history of, substance abuse; people who experienced welfare as a child or adult; or military families.
The Parents as Teachers curriculum is an evidence-based home visiting curriculum which supports developmental parenting focused on primary prevention and school readiness, empowering parents to be the best they strive to be, Ghormley said.
The program offers weekly or every other week home visits based on the family's priorities. Group Connections, or community groups, meet 12 times a year to connect families with resources.
Parents as Teachers also provides health, hearing, vision and developmental screenings.
The home visits help parents build stronger bonds with their children even before birth, Ghormley said. Parents can schedule regular doctor visits, prepare for parenthood, improve diets, reduce stress, quit smoking or substance abuse and improve family engagement.
"We always involve the parent," Ghormley said. "We're more as a coach."
The home visits focus on three areas: parent-child interaction, development-centered parenting, and family well-being. Parents as Teachers staff give parents activities to do with their children; discuss topics such as nutrients, sleep and discipline; and talk about the family system relating to the child's well-being.
"We focus on what they're doing that's positive," Ghormley said, "because parents can be hard on themselves."
Education, employment, mental health and relationships with family and friends are also topics of discussion during home visits.
Both the Early Intervention Program and Parents as Teachers are readily accessible, free programs on the reservation. Parents and guardians should take advantage of these services, Hines said, as they target a critical point in a child's life. For more information call 332-3516.
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