What’s New With ASQ: Q&A with Dawn Alexander
In the spring, the Delaware Readiness Teams launched the first statewide developmental screening webpage. The webpage compiles all of the known district screening tools into a central location and provides access to a free community-screening tool for those who do not have access to district tools.
Thanks to the partnership of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware and others, the Delaware Readiness Teams are proud to say that every child and family in Delaware now has access to a developmental screening tool and the opportunity for a strong start.
The Colonial Readiness Team spearheaded this initiative in 2017 and continues to push for greater access to developmental screenings. We caught up with Dawn Alexander, team lead for the Colonial Readiness Team, to learn more about their role as leaders and early adopters of this initiative as well as their impact on Delaware.
Why did you decide to lead a Delaware Readiness Team? Why have you remained engaged with the Delaware Readiness Teams?
I first joined the Hanover Readiness Teams as a member while teaching in Wilmington. There, I had the opportunity to develop strong relationships with community partners, in a way I had never done before.
Professionals, colleagues, families, and community partners were all doing so much individually, but we weren’t coming together to discuss those resources, those opportunities, or those activities. The Hanover Readiness Team gave us all a place to come together and problem solve what the community needed. It helped us to make impactful connections. We were all collaborating thanks to the Hanover Readiness Team. This experience changed the way that I engage with the community. It was extremely impactful. So when I took a new position as the Preschool Expansion Coordinator for Colonial School District, I knew one of the first things I had to do was bring a Readiness Team to the district and the Colonial community. Colonial leadership was supportive, and that’s how I ended up leading this team.
Why are developmental screenings so important for children and parents?
Babies aren’t born with instructions. So for parents and families, they might not know what is developmentally appropriate. Should my baby be sitting up by now? Should my child know how to hold a marker? There is a lot of information online and in baby books, and it can be so overwhelming.
Developmental screenings help parents and families understand what young children should―and should not―be able to do by a certain age and understand when prevention or intervention is needed.
Knowing when to intervene is crucial. If parents and families are educated from the get-go regarding what’s developmentally appropriate, then developmental delays can be prevented and/or addressed at a very early age. If parents and families participate in developmental screenings, then they can learn when there is a need for intervention. There's extensive research and data demonstrating children who participate in early intervention are less likely to need special education services by third grade. Also, when children receive early intervention, the chances are increased that the child will overcome their delay or develop appropriate accommodations to live with their delay.
Tell us about a time when a child you know has benefited from a developmental screening.
My favorite experience came from a mom, who worked as a speech therapist, and was enrolling her child for our pre-k program. In Colonial’s pre-k program, every family completes the ASQ Developmental Screeners at the time of application. If accepted, the family completes the ASQ Developmental Screening every year that the child is enrolled in our program. Based on her child’s results, there were a couple of areas of concern. I reached out and recommended a full evaluation. Fast-forward three or four months, and her child ended up qualifying for special education services. Her child is now receiving the supports needed for success. I remember the mom saying if her child hadn’t been screened, then she never would have known about her child’s delays, or these concerns might have manifested later in her child’s academic career.
Can you tell me about what the Colonial Readiness Teams has done to increase access to developmental screenings?
Raising awareness about the importance to developmental screenings is a big deal for us. Everyone knows you shouldn’t smoke. Everybody knows this and those who choose to smoke are aware of the potential dangers. We’re not there with developmental screenings. Everybody doesn’t know about their benefits, and until everybody knows how important they are, we’re going to keep beating the drum. We need to get to a point where developmental screening is just a matter of fact. Everyone will have screening done yearly for their child. The Colonial Early Education Program created online access to developmental screening for our families about two years ago, and we created a flyer in English and Spanish about developmental screenings. These flyers are sent to every childcare provider in the Colonial School District every six months, and we also put the flyers in libraries, community centers, and really any venue that would display them.
Our goal was to saturate. Educate and saturate to make sure every family knows this tool is available, free, and important.
We then took our show on the road and began meeting with other school districts statewide, special education coordinators, special education directors, and childcare providers through information sessions or one-on-one meetings. It’s been so helpful to build these relationships. We value the relationship we have with our childcare providers. Our goal was to support them through this initiative. We collaborated to complete screenings, analyze results, and contact families if there was a need for intervention.
What are some of the biggest impacts this developmental screening initiative has had statewide? We’re able to reach so many more families. The tool is online. It’s in English and Spanish. It can be done on paper. It can be done on a smartphone. It can be done on a Motorola. It can be done on an iPad.
As the Delaware Readiness Teams celebrated on Advocacy Day, every child and family now has access. And it is going to be monumental. We're going to be able to say this whole neighborhood, this whole community received screening last year.
The data we can now collect will have statewide impact. Before, data was being collected on individual spreadsheets or not collected at all. As a state, we could not see how many children were screened last year, how many interventions or referrals were made, how many interventions or referrals weren’t being followed up on, etc. Did the child get the services or help they needed? We didn’t know. The data just wasn’t being collected or analyzed in a systematic way.
Now it is. Now we can collect and analyze this data to better meet the needs of children and families throughout the state. I salute the leadership and commitment of all involved―the Delaware Readiness Teams, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Office of Early Learning, Delaware Public Libraries, 211/Help Me Grow, the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) Grant, and many more―because this is important work that is changing Delaware’s early learning landscape.