Minnesota isn’t making the grade when it comes to getting children under age three with special needs, some of the services they need most. According to information cited by the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota ranks 40th nationally in the percentage of young children with special needs who get early intervention services.
Maureen Walsh is director of community relations and development at Minnetonka’s St. David's Center for Child & Family Development—a West metro preschool and treatment facility for many children with special needs. She agreed that too many children with special needs in the Twin Cities aren’t getting the early assessment and intervention they need most.
“In the community there is an absolute bottleneck around assessment,” Walsh said. “Children out there are presenting who need treatment but they can’t get assessment.”
And it’s a problem that the staff at St. David’s Center is working to solve. Specifically, the non-profit is hoping to put together a community-based assessment and intervention team for young children with special needs and other behavioral health issues, including autism.
“We are trying to prevent long-term, expensive needs...[Late intervention] really negatively impacts how much people are able to enter society—fully,” Walsh said.
Their hope is that eventually this team would become mobile— traveling to communities around the metro area so that children with special needs can get the early assessment and treatment that most experts in the field agree is vital.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, children with special needs benefit greatly from the earliest possible diagnosis and intervention: “The sooner problems or potential risks are identified, the greater the chance of eliminating or minimizing existing problems or preventing future problems.”
“Early intervention is key,” Walsh said. “Some of these children can enter mainstream kindergarten with some support.”
The proposed St. David’s mobile assessment team would be run by experienced, licensed mental health professionals and would include mental health clinicians, licensed clinical social workers, occupational therapists and speech pathologists.
Walsh cautions that St. David’s Center is only starting the project—still in the strategic phase. But according to Walsh the $250,000 grant, which the group received earlier this month from the Medica Foundation, will go a long way towards turning the project into a reality.
“This funding allows us to…make a significant impact on health concerns important to the communities we serve,” the Medica Foundation said in a statement.
Walsh said the grant will be doled out over three years and that St. David’s Center plans to use $75,000 in the first year for planning and another $75,000 the following year to get the community-based assessment team in place. The third year, the plan is to use the remaining $100,000 to take the project into other metro communities.
“There are some pretty acute needs out there,” Walsh said.
For more than 50 years, St. David’s Center has served more than 2,500 children, adults and families throughout the Minneapolis West metro each year. Specifically, the staff members at St. David's Center provide rehabilitative therapies, mental health services, autism day treatment, and early intervention and support for children and for adults.
The Center's early childhood education classes also educate many typical needs children, in an inclusion education model, which combines children with special needs and children with typical needs in one classroom. It's believed that this framework is of mutual benefit to both sets of kids.