Every Child Deserves a Best Start – Even During a Pandemic - Amara

Every Child Deserves a Best Start – Even During a Pandemic

By Danielle Hammond, Child Screening and Family Support Specialist

Over the past seven months, many foster parents have told me things like, “I wish this program was around when I started fostering!” and “This is such a great service you’re providing!” To hear that caregivers are excited about screening and tracking the development of the child or children in their care has been invigorating. My name is Danielle Hammond and I am the Child Screening and Family Support Specialist for Amara’s Developmental Screening and Family Support services. Before I started this position, I supervised visits at Amara between kids in foster care and their parents for nearly two years and it’s where I found my passion for working in foster care. 

Working with our Family Time Visitation program immersed me in many of the intersections of the child welfare system including race, socioeconomic status, disability, geographic location, immigration status, gender and sexuality, and religion. Before I worked at Amara, I earned a degree in communication sciences and disorders which exposed me to the world of services for children with delays in their development. 

Supporting healthy development in kids

In January 2021, I started to build the program after Amara was awarded a grant from King County’s Best Starts for Kids. Our program uses two questionnaires (ASQ 3 & ASQ-SE) to screen for developmental delays in children in foster care who reside in (or have cases out of) King County, and who are between 1 month old and 6 years old. I’ve heard foster parents express how some of the questions on the screening tool were new to them and they hadn’t thought about those particular developmental aspects of the child in their care. It was great to see caregivers expanding their understanding of development while we went through the questionnaire!

After I screen an infant or a child, I help connect the caregivers to services by making referrals to local providers. Some of these services can include speech, occupational or physical therapy, and CHERISH (Children Encouraged by Relationships in Secure Homes) – a program which “offers a variety of services to promote the social/emotional well-being of children involved in the child welfare system who are living in out-of-home placements (or ‘dependency’).”

After 6 months, I re-screen the children and check in with the caregiver to see if they need any additional support in getting connected with services. 

Adapting during a pandemic

Some caregivers in this work have expressed hesitation about receiving virtual services due to COVID-19 restrictions. Although COVID-19 continues to ensure that many services are still virtual, there is evidence to suggest that remote service delivery is effective! This article from Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center features many resources for improving and participating in virtual services. 

I’ve met with caregivers via Zoom for over six months now– to screen children and connect with caregivers–who report that it’s worked well for their families. Caregivers have also shared with me how the transition to virtual services was uncomfortable at first, but over time they found a routine that worked for their families. Eventually, I hope to be able to visit families in their homes. For now, virtual meetings are proving to be effective and flexible, and families shouldn’t see this as a barrier to services.

We’re here for you

If you or someone you know is interested in having a child screened, please feel free to reach out to me at danielleh@amarafamily.org or call me at (206) 800-3128.  

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