UMASS EARLY INTERVENTION AND FAMILY SUPPORT PROGRAM
Above, kids and their moms engage in circle time at the UMass Early Intervention program in Shrewsbury. Developmental therapists and certified early intervention specialists lead the children in song and play, which helps them develop fine motor, speech and language, and social skills.
Early intervention helps optimize healthy development of society’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens, newborns to three-year-olds. The field was itself in its infancy when the UMass Medical School Department of Pediatrics made an early commitment to area children and families by establishing the UMass Early Intervention and Family Support Program (EI) program in the early 1970s. Today, UMass EI remains at the leading edge of the field’s evolution, helping children and their families lessen or prevent the effects of developmental delays.
EI services are an entitlement by law for all children up to age three who have or are at risk for developmental problems as a result of diagnosed conditions, biological risk factors and environmental risk factors; programs in Massachusetts must be licensed by the Department of Public Health. One of the 64 licensed programs statewide, UMass EI was the first, and is still the largest, early intervention program for Worcester and surrounding towns, serving 1,500 children annually. “Our goal is to be community-based,” explained EI Director Jimmilee Prouty. “We engage in extensive outreach and reciprocation with other providers in the area, including dozens of day care centers where problems may first be recognized.”
Including physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, registered nurses, early childhood special educators, counselors and social workers, the EI team employs a strength-based approach that addresses the whole child, not just the diagnosis. Upon referral, a child is assessed for fine and gross motor development; speech and language development; cognition; social and emotional function; and self-care abilities. A customized program is then created to address identified needs with developmental services including physical, occupational and speech therapy; counseling and case management; and individual and group therapies provided in a child’s home as well as at the EI Center in Shrewsbury. Services are also provided in day care centers upon request.
"Our goal is to be community-based. We engage in extensive outreach and reciprocation with other providers in the area, including dozens of day care centers where problems may first be recognized." -Jimmilee Prouty, EI director
Instructing and working with parents is an integral component of early intervention. “One of the first things we do is review family routines so we can identify with the members the areas that challenge the child and family and set up a plan that will help them deal with difficult times and situations,” said Prouty. Play and parenting groups are offered at the Early Intervention Center in Shrewsbury, and staff members also provide services in a variety of settings including homeless shelters and substance-abuse treatment facilities where children reside with recovering parents.
The full backing of UMass Medical School supports UMass EI’s comprehensive approach to serving children with developmental problems. “We have access to some of the best pediatric care in the state,” said Prouty. In turn, EI provides education to medical students: Prouty participates as a facilitator in the UMMS Physician, Patient and Society course, and numerous training opportunities are available to students and residents at the EI Center in Shrewsbury.
The program is also an incubator for professional development. Noting that staff members must demonstrate competency in 84 areas for state certification in early intervention, Prouty said, “They come to us with credentials in their own field. Subsequently they develop broad-based EI expertise comprising more than the scope of their specialized training.”
Today, UMass Early Intervention remains at the leading edge of the field's evolution, helping children and their families lessen or prevent the effects of developmental delays.
Whatever their discipline, all EI clinicians are committed to helping entire families and communities as well as individual children. “Dedicated staff motivate families as well as kids to do the best they can,” Prouty concluded. “More than 50 percent of our kids don’t require special education services after they leave us.”
UMass Early Intervention
This information appears in the UMMS 2008 Annual Report. PDF available.