Head Start and First Steps offer valuable and often life-changing services and resources for children in need. Not sure what these programs are all about? Read on to learn what Head Start and First Steps can do for your family.
What are these programs?
Head Start is a school readiness program for children with families who have incomes below the federal poverty level. Pamela Le’al, Family Development Services Center Director for Hamilton County Head Start, says, “It is a program under the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.”
“First Steps is a statewide program that delivers early intervention services to infants and toddlers with developmental delays and/or disabilities and their families,” says Debbi Davis, Executive Director of Prokids, Inc./Central Indiana First Steps. “Services are individualized based on each child and family’s unique needs and are designed to enhance the child’s development as well as the family’s capacity to meet their child’s special needs.” First Steps provides services to the child in their own home or childcare center. Some of the services offered to families include Assistive Technology (AT); audiological services; Developmental Therapy (DT), family education, training and counseling; health services; medical services for diagnostic and evaluation purposes; psychological services; Physical Therapy (PT); Occupational Therapy (OT); nutrition services; nursing services; social work services; special instruction (Developmental Therapy DT); speech therapy; transportation and other services.
Service coordinators can inform the family of their rights, opportunities and responsibilities within the program. They can also help the family become advocates for their child and will assist in creating the family’s Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), as well as help to identify and plan for transitions within and out of First Steps.
What ages do these programs serve?
In Hamilton County, the Early Head Start program serves children from the age of six weeks until the day before the child’s third birthday. Early Head Start serves infants, toddlers, pregnant women and their families. The Head Start program is designed for preschool children who are three years old by September 1st or have a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP.)
According to Davis, “First Steps serves children ages birth to three years who are experiencing a developmental delay or have a diagnosed medical condition with a high likelihood of developmental delay.”
Why should parents take advantage of them?
Le’al says that Head Start offers kids high-quality, comprehensive, early childhood, family-focused services. “It is our focus to enhance the children’s growth and development and provide them with school readiness skills.”
“First Steps can be a very helpful resource for families of infants and toddlers with developmental delays and/or disabilities,” says Davis. “Providers prioritize family education and engagement. The families’ choices for their children are respected. Services are delivered in the child’s natural environment, which is most often the home or child care, and providers are as flexible as possible to ensure the family is able to fully participate.”
Megan and Peter Lohman used First Steps to help treat their son’s torticollis. Torticollis is a condition in which the head becomes persistently turned to one side, often associated with painful muscle spasms. Their son was diagnosed at birth and needed physical therapy to prevent more severe issues from developing. “The therapy and treatment parts were very positive,” says Megan. “The results were wonderful. It is hard to know how his condition would have turned out had we not done the treatment. He is now two and you cannot even detect the torticollis he was born with. He has full range of motion and so far, has not had any issues.”
How can parents find out more?
Parents can apply online at www.fds.org or visit the center at 17645 Oakmont Drive in Noblesville to apply in person.
If parents suspect their child is experiencing a developmental delay, then they are encouraged to self-refer. Contact information for local First Steps programs can be found at www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/4685.htm