April 8, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer
Parents anxious about their child's development can get help from the state through a new survey being circulated by the state's Children's Trust Fund.
The Ages & Stages survey targets parents of children 4 months to 5 years old. Parents who enroll in the survey program are asked a series of detailed questions every three to six months. The questions range from the general - does your baby laugh? - to the specific - does your baby look at a toy when you put it in his or her hand?
The survey is designed to screen children for potential disabilities and help parents understand when children should be able to speak, pull themselves up to a standing position or draw a circle, officials said.
Once the survey is completed, parents are asked to mail the results in a pre-addressed envelope so they can be scored and screened.
Parents whose children are developing normally receive their scores in the mail along with pamphlets describing positive activities they can do with their babies, like helping them notice sounds, creative play and communicating through touch.
When a child's score raises a red flag, parents will receive a phone call from staff members who will elicit more information and help direct the parents to more advanced screening and special programs.
The awareness raised by the surveys should help reduce child abuse, increase preventive care and save the state money in the long run, said Karen Foley-Schain, the Children's Trust Fund's executive director.
"This helps parents to have realistic expectations," Foley-Schain said. "If a parent expects a child to do things by a certain age, it can lead to frustration. Unrealistic expectations have been shown to be a precursor to child neglect or abuse."
The Ages & Stages screening kits are part of the Children's Trust Fund's Help Me Grow initiative, which started about seven years ago and is considered a national model in helping children with learning and other developmental difficulties connect with local programs. Help Me Grow costs the state about $500,000 a year and relies on staff supplied by the United Way. Ages & Stages is funded in part with a federal child abuse prevention grant, Foley-Schain said.
The Children's Trust Fund, an independent state agency committed to strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect, will be circulating dozens of copies of the survey kits to the offices of the approximately 300 pediatricians and family practice doctors in the state in the coming weeks. Local doctors will be trained to use the kits and will be encouraged to distribute them and discuss them with patients.
Dr. Paul Dworkin, physician in chief at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said early detection, intervention and prevention have become priorities in pediatrics.
Having the survey results screened and tabulated by a central clearinghouse is key to assisting doctors who often are busy dealing with the increasing demands of their practices, he said.
Dworkin said there has been a significant increase in developmental delays and other child disabilities in recent years. While autism has received the most attention, he said there are a variety of other concerns that benefit from early screening and detection.
"We know that when we look at prevention, one key element is enlisting parents' opinions and concerns," Dworkin said. "We also know that the most effective way to do this is if the opinions are obtained using a valid tool."
The survey questions are based on critical child growth areas as identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dworkin said. In an attempt to get the best results, the test will screen parents who are not honest in their answers.
Nichelle Hamilton, a senior interviewer with the city of Hartford, tried the survey as part of a pilot program and found it helpful. Hamilton's daughter, Ariana, was born at 32 weeks, raising Hamilton's concerns about possible developmental problems.
"The answers I received made my situation much more bearable and I was able to focus on the most important thing ... my child," Hamilton said.
The Ages & Stages child development kit can be obtained by calling the Children's Trust Fund's Help Me Grow/Child Development Infoline at 800-505-7000.