New multilingual site helps parents track and understand early childhood development
Help Me Grow MN, an outreach initiative that serves the metro area, recently introduced a website available in English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. The website helps parents, caregivers, and professionals keep tabs on their child’s early development through information and assessments, as well as hleps them learn to facilitate conversations about potential developmental disabilities.
For some parents, this knowledge can help them uncover developmental challenges they would otherwise have been unaware of.
Marty Smith, project coordinator with the Region 11 Interagency Early Intervention Committee, said the website is designed to streamline the effort to get information out to parents and education professionals, because early intervention is the key to managing any developmental challenges.
“Our goal is to provide information on early childhood development milestones and look at typical development. It’s like a yardstick to measure against,” Smith said. “We designed this website to empower parents, caregivers, and professionals to better understand how children grow, and identify what is typical in development and when there might be a concern,” Smith said.
The project partners with the state Department of Education to reach people who may not otherwise have had the knowledge or access to public resources that help assess their children’s progress from ages 0-5.
In addition to information about key milestones, the website provides strategies to encourage and enhance continued development, plus how to have a conversation with the parents of a child suspected by caregivers or educators to have a developmental disability or barrier. Parents can receive education on early intervention techniques and benefits, health care information, referrals, and how to access resource materials to learn more about a specific disorder or issue.
Smith said the launch of the site has already yielded positive results.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of people coming to us,” she said. “These services have been in place for almost 30 years, but in Minnesota we haven’t had a coordinated effort to get the word out. Before, it was fragmented and confusing.”
For one parent of children in the Robbinsdale Area School District, the outreach has been extremely helpful. Andrea Bejarano-Robbinson of New Hope said her four kids, who range in age from 1 year to fifth grade, have all used special education services for early developmental issues she learned of through Help Me Grow MN, which connected her with the appropriate assistance.
“For our children, it was language. It really helped with encouraging us that we weren’t bad parents, and that what was going on was neurological. It helped support us during the ups and downs,” she said.
Bejarano-Robbinson said there is a misconception among some parents that such outreach is a judgement on parenting skills. “What I like to call it is a partnership between you and the school district to help your student,” she said.
Parents are now able to make self-referrals, which has simplified the process. Bejarano-Robbinson said when her first child went into his referral evaluation, parents had to provide more detailed information. Previously, a doctor, educator, or other outside party who works with the child made the referral through a phone number, which is still available through the website.
Children can be referred with Help Me Grow for a screening or evaluation with programs provided through their public school, followed by an initial phone assessment and a visit to the child’s home for an observation of the child interacting with his or her natural home environment.
From there, the child will either pre-qualify for a specific service based on the observation, or the program agent will help connect the parents with the right resources for their child’s specific needs.
Help Me Grow aims to bridge gaps of understanding to make it less daunting for parents to become knowledgable of early childhood development milestones in their children and the resources they have at their disposal.
“It’s really made an impact to help me know how to better educate my kids so they are ready for kindergarten,” Bejarano-Robbinson said. “There are a lot of programs in Hennepin County that help families be the best they can be for their children.”