Here are five ways to help get your child emotional and mental health services in Connecticut
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted various services for children, and that has sparked concerns about their long-term social and emotional well-being.
The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood says 10% of children under 5 years old in Connecticut have some type of diagnosable disability. But OEC Commissioner Beth Bye says some children may be going through the pandemic with undiagnosed disabilities.
“Some services were delayed,” Bye said. “We also know children had less socialization, so their development was impacted, period.”
Bye spoke with Connecticut Public about how local children were affected by the pandemic for an upcoming television special, “Cutline: COVID to Kindergarten.”
Families have several options to access support for children’s mental, emotional and physical health in Connecticut. Here’s a listing:
1. The 2-1-1 Child Development Infoline
The 2-1-1 Child Development Infoline is run by the United Way of Connecticut, which specializes in early intervention for developmental delays. Care coordinators from the United Way take calls from state residents who dial 2-1-1.
“You’ll get sent some screening questionnaires and forms,” said Dr. Robert Keder, a developmental pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s. “They will be scored and interpreted by nurse practitioners and advanced practitioners who will then help guide you to what are some good reasonable next steps.”
Keder says the 2-1-1 infoline is particularly helpful for children ages 3 and older who are no longer eligible for entry into a state system called Birth to Three.
2. Connecticut Birth to Three
State residents may refer a child to Birth to Three by filling out a form on the agency’s website.
When the pandemic took hold, referrals to Birth to Three increased, the United Way reports. Also, early childhood special education referrals went up from 2020 to 2021.
Children who are evaluated and ultimately supported by Birth to Three are served without a parent fee.
“We know the earlier you get those supports the better and they’re on parents' terms in their homes or at their child care center,” Bye said. “You get physical therapy, occupational therapy if you need it, speech therapy. There are people who are specialists in autism.”
3. Check in with a developmental pediatrician
Families can also reach out to a developmental pediatrician, someone who’s been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, to identify issues children are facing.
Some babies and toddlers experience intense emotions, and they’re still learning how to deal with those emotions, Keder said.
“There are some toddlers and kids who are either more fussy or intense or colicky – those of you who have that child who's 3 and they know what they want when they want it and they will fight for it until they're blue in the face,” Keder said.
4. Call your pediatrician
Developmental pediatricians are hard to find; according to the American Board of Pediatrics, there are only about 750 in the United States.
Keder recommends consulting your child’s pediatrician.
“We have several really great pediatricians across the state – family medicine doctors to pay attention,” Keder said.
5. Review CDC developmental milestones
Keder says families can familiarize themselves with milestones children should be reaching at a given age. They can access those through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says that may help parents or guardians inform developmental pediatricians or the family pediatrician during a visit.
Work with your kids at home
Beyond reaching out to a professional, families can support children through skill-building over time.
Keder says certain books like “The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas or television programs like the animated series “Bluey” can help children learn to label their emotions so that families can triage any sort of crisis a child may be going through.
“When we have opportunities to act out stories with dolls or puppets or characters, or we can talk about what we're reading in books or watching on shows, we can process and we can help scaffold,” Keder said. “Scaffolding is a developmental term, and I think of it just like we use scaffolding in a building. We put the scaffolding up around the building until the building can stand up on its own without support.”
Learn more from Dr. Robert Keder and Beth Bye in “Cutline: COVID to Kindergarten,” which airs on Connecticut Public Television on May 19 at 8 p.m. or you can watch online.