Today, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) opened a new Early Stages Center located in Northeast DC that will provide greater access to thousands of families in Wards 7 and 8 seeking to evaluate and identify young children in need of special education services, announced Mayor Vincent C. Gray and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
The new center, the second to open in the District since 2009, offers free, comprehensive diagnostic testing services for children ages 3-5 and recommends the services necessary to help them succeed as they enter school.
“The demand for early childhood diagnostic services continues to increase across the district with about 40 percent of referrals coming from Wards 7 and 8. This new Early Stages Center, located next to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station, will provide greater access to families in a section of the city where demand is greatest and enable DCPS to serve an additional 800 children a year,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Over the past three years, Mayor Gray has championed initiatives to increase early intervention support services in the District, such as the “Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008,” which will provide universal pre-kindergarten to every child age 3 and 4 in the District of Columbia by 2014 and increase early intervention services to prepare students for success.
In September, Mayor Gray and State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley unveiled a new campaign managed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) called “Strong Start” that brings attention to the signs of developmental disabilities and delays in children from birth to age 3.
The District’s two Early Stages Centers complement these initiatives by providing individualized high-quality evaluations and services that will allow every child in the District to get off to a strong start in school by identifying any delay at a young age.
“Services to young children who have or at risk for developmental delays have been shown to positively impact outcomes across the developmental domains, including health; language and communication; and cognitive and social/emotional development,” Chancellor Henderson said. “Families benefit by being able to better meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives.”
Before Early Stages opened in the District, DCPS only had the capacity to offer smaller-scale screenings for developmental delays and provide piecemeal services by multiple specialists. The Ward 7 center, along with the Early Stages Center at Walker-Jones Education Campus in Ward 6, offer expanded outreach and individualized case management, and provide proactive and comprehensive support to all District families.
The centers are staffed by dedicated educators, childcare experts and special education professionals. Child Find Field Coordinators (CFFCs) execute the centers’ outreach campaigns. In pairs of two per ward, CFFCs locate, identify and evaluate children for special education services. Family Care Coordinators (FCCs) work one-on-one with children and their families as advocates. FCCs conduct school visits with families, coordinate interpreter services, and can link families to other services such as Medicaid and food stamps.
As a team, the centers’ diverse staff takes a holistic approach to serving parents and families with concerns about how their child is walking, talking, playing, learning and behaving. Through the process of evaluation, determination of eligibility and the exploration of placement options, Early Stages can recommend specialized instruction, speech/language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or psychological and behavioral services.
“Since its restructuring in the fall of 2009, Early Stages has dramatically increased the number of children we serve – more than 1,000 a year since 2009 - and increased the percentage of children age 3 to 5 identified for special education, from below 3 percent to more than 7 percent,” said Dr. Nathaniel Beers, DCPS Chief of the Office of Special Education and former executive director of the Early Stages Center.
“By partnering with the health care community in the District, Early Stages has tripled the number of health care providers making referrals directly to Early Stages. On average, Early Stages receives 120 referrals a month,” Beers said.
Early Stages services are available to all families who live in the District, whether a child goes to public school, private school, is home-schooled or has not yet entered the school system. And, anyone can make a referral to Early Stages if there is a concern about a child’s development.