Families in Torrington and Winsted now have access to an innovative, home-based system of care designed to decrease serious emotional disturbance, developmental and learning problems, abuse and neglect among Connecticut’s most vulnerable young children (prenatal to age 6). The early childhood intervention program, known as Child First (Child and Family Interagency Resource, Support and Training), is directed and administered by Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s Center for Youth and Families.
The center was awarded a $470,000 three-year federal grant to work with pediatricians, teachers and other community providers to identify, assess and intervene in cases of mental health and development problems in young children who live in high-risk environments in the area. Charlotte Hungerford Hospital is part of a group of area child and family service agencies known as Torrington’s Early Childhood Collaborative whose efforts led to the center being chosen by community members to receive this valuable recognition and significant funding. The Child First program, which operates out of 28 St. John’s Place in Torrington, is serving 25 area families. It began serving local children and families in July of 2013, and has the capacity to serve approximately 50 families a year.
Based on current research on brain development that shows that extremely high stress environments (poverty, depression, domestic violence, abuse and neglect, substance abuse and homelessness) are “toxic” to the developing brains of young children, Child FIRST facilitates a nurturing and consistent parent-child relationship to buffer and protect the brain from these damaging results.
Child First uses two complementary strategies. The first is a system-of-care approach that provides comprehensive, integrated services and supports (such as domestic violence intervention, screening and referrals for treatment for maternal depression; early education, housing) for the child and family to decrease environmental stressors and facilitate healthy growth and development. The second is a psychotherapeutic relationship-based approach that enhances nurturing, responsive parent-child interactions and promotes positive social-emotional and cognitive development.
A Child First coordinator, two developmental clinicians, two care coordinators and a support staff member handle the local program,” said Joan M. Neveski, L.C.S.W., clinical manager, Center for Youth and Families, who oversees the Child FIRST program in Torrington and Winsted.
“Two teams, each consisting of a developmental clinician and a care coordinator work with pediatricians, teachers and other community providers to identify, assess and intervene where necessary,” said Neveski, who noted that the staff underwent intensive Child First training and are introducing the program through presentations at community agencies and physician offices. Child First staff members are working closely with Head Start, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), area schools and other community agencies.
Ruthann Horvay, director of the Winsted Family Resource Center, said, “The First 1,000 days of a child’s life has a huge impact on the child’s future. Parents are the best teachers of their children. Child First helps empower families to get started on the right foot. The program is designed to subdue any mental health or developmental issues that might stand in the way of a successful child/parent relationship.”
Child First serves children who are prenatal through six years at the onset of services who have emotional/behavioral or developmental/learning problems and families with multiple challenges such as extreme poverty, maternal depression, domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness, abuse and neglect, incarceration and isolation. Families are served without regard to insurance coverage, ability to pay or legal status.
Identification of families and children who may benefit from Child First may be made by the family or by any community-based service provider. The referral may be made through a formal screening process or through informal identification based on concerns about the child and family.
Torrington/Winsted is in the third cohort of agencies selected with in the 15 regions served by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to implement the Child FIRST program. Originally developed in Bridgeport in 2001, the Child FIRST model is being replicated throughout the state with the use of a Learning Collaborative approach, which uses multi-modal learning opportunities, ongoing collection of outcome data and continuous quality improvement strategies that adhere to the model developed by Darcy Lowell, Child First founder and executive director.
Over the past decade, Child First has identified children in high-risk environments or who showed very early signs of emotional, behavioral or developmental problems. The program has received national recognition as an evidence-based practice, and its success has been documented through a randomized research trial.
By connecting children and families with community-based services and providing intensive, home-based, psycho educational and psychotherapeutic intervention, Child FIRST has been shown to decrease children’s emotional and behavioral problems, parental stress and depression, protective service involvement, and improve language development and parent-child interactions in very high risk families.
Evaluation of the program has shown a marked increase (77 percent versus 30 percent) in access to services for all family members. Research also has shown significant increases in teachers’ understanding of emotional behavioral issues, ability to identify children with problems and ability to develop and implement strategies to help children in their care as well as improvement among 40 to 60 percent of children in early education identified with behavioral problems.
Child First is a unique public-private partnership. Funding for Child FIRST in Torrington and Winsted comes from the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which was authorized by the Affordable Care Act. The program facilitates collaboration and partnerships at the federal, state and community levels to improve health and development outcomes for at-risk children through evidence-based programs such as Child First. Other private and public funding has helped expand Child FIRST across the state with matching grants from the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Education, the Children’s Fund of Connecticut, the Connecticut Health Department and the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund. Local and regional foundations such as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Child Health and Development Institute of CT are all supporters of the Child First Program.
For more information about the Child First program, contact the CHH Child First Program at (860) 496-0867.
The Charlotte Hungerford Hospital is a 109-bed, general acute care hospital located in Torrington, Connecticut, that serves as a regional health care resource for 100,000 residents of Litchfield County and Northwest Connecticut. CHH offers personalized attention from an expert team of caregivers and physicians that utilize advanced technology and clinical partnerships in a convenient, safe and comfortable patient environment. One-Thousand Employees, One Job, Your Health. Visit www.charlottehungertford.org for information