Happy Early Intervention Awareness Month!
This week, Virginia’s governor released his annual proclamation (external website) that we celebrate early intervention in May. This is a great time of year to try to get the word about about early intervention in your locality. Even if you don’t live in Virginia, consider jumping in with us to try to raise awareness of what EI is and how to access it where you are.
Public awareness of early intervention is always an ongoing effort. Finding the time to do it isn’t easy, between intervention visits, meetings, monitoring the budget, staff supervision…the list goes on and on. I’ve found that purposefully planning several times a year to reach out to my referral sources and circulate info about the program was an easy way to focus my efforts. I’ve taken baskets of tea and chocolates to doctor’s office staff, sent mailings to families, visited child care centers, and manned a booth at child health fairs at the mall and community recreation centers. I’ve known others who periodically speak during physician rounds at the local hospital or meet with office managers at pediatric practices.
To help you in your public awareness efforts this month, I thought I’d share some great free resources that you can use to reach families, physicians, and other key referral sources in your community. Please add to the list by sharing what methods you use to get the word out!
Everyone loves “seeing it” and hearing from families and providers. If they have closed circuit TV in the waiting room, request that your local pediatrician’s office or social services department show one of these videos. Get an EI video played on your local free access TV station. Check out our video: What is Early Intervention in Virginia? below.
This video is 8.45 min long and features families and EI providers talking about what EI is, what it looks like, and why it works. A letter to community partners (PDF, New Window) and guidance for explaining EI (PDF, New Window) are available. If you need this video on a flashdrive or DVR to share, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you need a video to support the importance of early childhood intervention, here are four powerful resources. If you haven’t yet, take a few moments and watch.
Handouts & Brochures
Keep handouts for referral sources short and sweet. They likely have very little time to read what you send, so make it count.
Parents are Often the First to Know When Their Baby Needs a Helping Hand: A Checklist for Your Child’s Development from Birth to Age Three (PDF, New Window) – VA resource. Contact local playgroups, parent support groups, mommy & me groups, child care centers, parenting classes, social services, and preschools and request that they distribute this checklist. Be sure to add a sticker with contact info for your local program.
After the NICU: Promoting Your Premature Baby’s Development at Home (PDF, New Window) – VA brochure, also available in Spanish (PDF, New Window). Contact your local NICU to ask if they will share this with families.
The Importance of Early Intervention for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and their Families (PDF, New Window) (NECTAC/ECTA Center) – Share this document with groups who are unfamiliar with EI, such as with funders.
Feed your referral sources – Along with your materials, take them a muffin breakfast, a basket of chocolate, or sandwiches for lunch. People love to snack and may warm up easier if you break the ice with a peace offering.
Regularly connect and check-in with key people – Find out who the office manager is and have a face-to-face meeting to discuss making referrals and answer questions. Other key people might include the physician’s nurse, an agency’s referral coordinator, the social workers at CPS or other DSS programs, lead staff at child care centers, social workers at the local hospital nursery or NICU, local substance abuse counselors, etc. Who are the key people in your locality?
Offer free screenings – Contact child care centers and preschools and offer a morning of free screenings once or twice a year. This takes coordination, but can be a great way to raise awareness among families and teachers.
Advertise your program a positive community resource – Sometimes, EI programs can be viewed as the place you send families who have children with challenges, which is true, but can also make people nervous. Advertise your program as a place where families can get info about infant and toddler development, ask questions, connect to resources, and receive support. Participate in community wellness fairs. Seek out collaborative opportunities with other agencies who serve children and families who may benefit from what you do. Let others know that you are happy to screen any child. Have open arms and be a positive presence in your community, and the word will get out!
What specific activities are you planning to celebrate EI and raise awareness? What have you done in the past that worked well?
Share your ideas in the comments below!
Visit the Early Intervention: What It Is and Why It Works and Resources and Info for Families pages on the VA Early Intervention Professional Development Center site for more info you can use. Visit the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia for information about VA’s early intervention system.