South Dakota’s Birth to 3 Connections served 1,791 children in 2006, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. The program, which is under the direction of the Department of Education, provides early intervention for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities.
“Birth to 3 Connections’ purpose is to provide services to children and families before they enter the school system, so they are equipped with the tools they need to succeed in a formal education setting,” said Secretary of Education Rick Melmer. “We take our responsibility for finding these children very seriously, because we know how crucial the early years are in terms of a child’s development.”
Through Birth to 3 Connections, South Dakota families have access to services such as early childhood special instruction and occupational, physical and speech therapy. All services are provided at no cost to the family. Additional services may include psychological services, nursing services, family training and counseling, and audiology and vision services.
“Birth to 3 serves children and families with a range of needs, and the successes are amazing,” said Sherrie Fines, director of South Dakota’s Birth to 3 Connections. “We see children whose speech has flourished with therapy; children who have learned to walk and run; and parents who have acquired the skills they need to assist with their child’s development.”
According to Fines, the number of children served by the program has grown by an average of 8 percent over the last five years. She credits the growth to greater knowledge of the importance of learning in the first three years of life and increased awareness of the Birth to 3 program. “The experts agree that the earlier we can identify these children, the better their chances for success down the road,” Fines said.
If a family suspects that a child has a developmental delay, the parent can request a free developmental screening. The screening provides a quick look at how the child is growing and learning. If it is determined that a child should receive early intervention services, an Individualized Family Service Plan is developed.
“Families are absolutely critical to the development of the IFSP, since they are the ones who know their children best,” Fines said. A team of professionals works with families to identify the services needed, desired outcomes and how progress will be measured. This plan is reviewed at least every six months.
The Birth to 3 program focuses on providing services in the child’s natural environment, including a home, day care setting, or any other location that may be part of the child’s normal routine. There are no income eligibility requirements with this program.
Across South Dakota, there are 23 regional Birth to 3 service coordinators. Families may call a toll-free number, 1-800-305-3064, to connect with the Birth to 3 service coordinator in their area.