A head start on childhood development

For Early Childhood Intervention Week in Saskatchewan - April 30 through May 5 - the Parkland Early Childhood Intervention Program (PECIP) is promoting the services it and the province's other 12 ECIP programs provide to families in the province.

PECIP offers assistance to children with developmental delays and their caregivers, explains Michelle Yaschuk, executive director of the program.

"We provide supports to families who need help in navigating the system and linking them to other community supports and services, as well as providing families with developmentally appropriate activities to enhance their child's development."

The program, which is based out of the SIGN on North Street building in Yorkton, currently works with 48 families within a radius of about 150 miles of the city. The children involved with the program have a broad range of diagnoses ranging from cerebral palsy to Down syndrome to fetal alcohol syndrome. Others have no specific diagnosis.

Most of PECIP's services are provided directly in the homes of its clients, wherever they might live. Each family is assigned an "interventionist" who works with the child and his or her caregivers until age five.

Jana and Regan Graham of Invermay are two parents involved with PECIP. The program has been their primary support since their four-year-old son Preston was diagnosed with developmental delays. PECIP "has made a huge impact" on the family's lives, says Jana.

"Preston benefits from it as much as Regan and I do as parents. We get home visits from Jamie [De Vos], the interventionist, usually twice a month, where she comes in and does different activities with Preston and then teaches us different things to do with him to help him grow intellectually."

Beyond its direct work with caregivers and children, PECIP also helps to coordinate a development and education strategy for each child, bringing on psychologists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, preschool teachers, and others to work together in a unified direction.

"We help the family pull their team together. We work as advocates, as well, to help families understand that they know their child best so that they take the lead for their child's team," says Yaschuk.

With PECIP's help, Preston has been attending pre-Kindergarten this year and is on track to start school in the fall of 2013.

"The program has been incredible. I don't think I would have been strong enough to achieve everything that we've achieved without the help of them," says Jana.

Like many of PECIP's clients, Jana had never heard of the program before her son was referred into it by a pediatrician. She now wishes she'd known about it earlier, and urges other parents with developmentally delayed children to realize they don't have to take on the challenge alone.

"It's the greatest thing you can do for your kids, and the earlier you can get them involved, the better for them."

Funding for the Parkland Early Childhood Intervention Program comes from the Ministry of Education.

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