Help Me Grow’s Summer Merrick does regular outreach to educate caretakers. | Provided Photo

Meeting Milestones

Help Me Grow is a new resource for parents

Children develop at their own pace, but developmental milestones give a general idea of what changes to expect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave and move. Development can be tracked as early as two months of age by noticing if a baby shows excitement before a feeding or at seeing a recognizable face. As an infant grows, first words should be spoken and first steps taken, but if development is not happening within an expected timeframe or a parent has concerns, early interventions can help children get back on track.

The first step is for parents to know what to look for and that resources are available for their family.

Help Me Grow Onondaga, a new program launched in January, helps to ensure parents and guardians are informed about why milestones matter.

Many times, parents feel alone and don’t know what resources are available or if they should be concerned, said Laurie Black, the director of the Early Childhood Alliance.

“Help Me Grow is that navigation system for parents,” Black said.

This county-wide system is based on a national model that focuses on promoting developmental milestones and screenings for children from birth to age 5. The goal of Early Childhood Alliance is for all children to begin school ready to learn and for all caregivers to be supported in their parenting.

Early and frequent screenings of young children for healthy growth and development are recommended to help identify potential problems or areas needing further evaluation, according to Help Me Grow’s Care Coordinator Summer Merrick, who started this past April. Catching developmental issues early allows parents and professionals to intervene more effectively, as well as prevent additional developmental delays or deficits.

Merrick knows firsthand the powerlessness parents can feel when a child seems to lag behind. Her son showed speech delays, so she sought interventions and screenings. Merrick enrolled her son in occupational and speech therapy at the age of 1. Now, at 7, her son is on target.

“Parents are a child’s first teachers,” Merrick said.
Black believes that not enough has been done to help educate and advocate for parents. “They need to know how important early literacy exposure is for future language development,” she said. “Parents don’t have to spend a lot of money on toys or games; they can use what they already have at home. It’s all about being intentional about the experience.”

Merrick, who spends part of her work hours at social service agencies, provides a milestone checklist and fields parents’ questions about typical child development. Based on any potential delays, Merrick provides parents with referrals. She’ll even share suggestions on activities to do with a child. For example, she told a mother of an infant to hold her baby in front of a mirror, so the baby could learn to recognize his/her own face. That mother could also help her child to develop vocabulary by pointing out particular parts of the face in the mirror and naming them for the baby.

Merrick also tracks her own progress. She keeps a record of all her calls and referrals to follow-up with parents and see how children are progressing.

“It’s about having a dialogue,” she said. “I’ll send a summary right after our talk and then text or call back within two weeks to ensure needs were met.”

— By Ashley Kang, The Stand Director

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