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Helping bridge the service gap for children with special needs

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A pilot program in the First Things First (FTF) Phoenix South Region is providing support for families who have developmental concerns about their babies, toddlers and preschoolers, but who aren’t eligible for special needs services provided by the state or local school district.

The Side by Side Program, which is funded by FTF and run through Southwest Human Development, provides parent coaches and a specialized technical assistant team to work alongside families to find ways to support their child’s optimal development in the areas of communication, problem-solving, motor, daily living, behavior and social-emotional skills.

The FTF Phoenix South Regional Partnership Council wanted to address the children in the region who don’t meet the eligibility requirements for services, said FTF Phoenix South Regional Director Jeanine Bashir.

“There are many children who don’t qualify for special needs services through the Arizona Early Intervention Program through the Department of Economic Security,” Bashir said. “But those families can still benefit from additional help, like what the Side by Side program offers.”

The Side by Side program provides case management for 40 families.  A child’s needs are identified and families connect with different specialists on-call. Parent coaches also visit the family in their home and provide additional parenting information, model ways to support healthy development and share connections to other community resources. Also included are ongoing developmental and sensory screenings.

“The team is holding the family’s hand through the process,” Bashir said. “They are providing the technical assistance, but also information to help through their everyday activities.”

If the program proves successful, it could become a model to help children across Arizona.

“We know this is a statewide issue,” Bashir said. She added that FTF is doing work across regions to determine the best way to support families to bridge the gap of services for children with special needs who do not qualify for services.  

“Looking at the data, we hear about these families stuck in a loop where they don’t qualify for assistance and they can’t get the assessments they need for their child,” Bashir said. “It becomes very challenging for families.”

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