Infants and toddlers enrolled in an early intervention program might be taking baby steps, but they are making giant strides toward a brighter future.
Babies Can't Wait is a statewide program designed to link children with special needs to available services to minimize the impact of their disability, said Tammy Seigler, Babies Can't Wait Coordinator for Health District Six, which includes Columbia County.
"It's critical for these kids to be linked to services as quickly as possible," she said. "It gives them the greatest opportunity to succeed as they are growing up."
The free program, which serves children from birth to 3 years old, provides evaluations and a comprehensive plan to connect families to available services. Some children with certain health conditions, such as spina bifida, are automatically eligible for the program. Others who might qualify will be tested free of charge, Seigler said.
When referrals come into the office, representatives arrange a home visit or an evaluation in the natural environment of the child, such as a day care center, where the child is comfortable.
For those eligible, the program links children and families with a variety of services often provided by different groups.
The most common service provided is speech and language pathology, followed by physical therapy, special instruction and occupational therapy, according to the Babies Can't Wait Annual Report on the Georgia Department of Public Health Web site.
Other services include assistive technology devices, audiology and vision services, family training and counseling and various health services. By intervening early, officials want to help reduce the need for special services later in life and help children reach their maximum developmental potential.
"Children who have been in early intervention are much better prepared for future services," Seigler said.
When children leave the program at age 3, their service plan ensures a smooth transition.
"The program has been very helpful for families. We want to continue to reach them and make sure they have what they need," Seigler said.
"Babies Can't Wait continues to work with the department of education to ensure that all children and families are effectively transitioned to appropriate services when they exit Babies Can't Wait," wrote Walter Black, chairman of the state Interagency Coordinating Council for early intervention programs, in a March 2003 letter to the governor.
Currently, 260 families in Health District Six are enrolled, Seigler said. Anyone in the community can refer as child as long as they have communicated with the family first.
For more information, or to make a referral, call 667-4279.
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