ST. GEORGE – The Learning Center for Families is holding an open house on Friday, Sept. 23, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., for a grand opening of its new facility in St. George, located at 2044 S. Mesa Palms Drive on the corner of Tonaquint (adjacent to the Methodist Church).
The grand opening will offer fun activities, prizes and child development screenings for children. The event will be enjoyable for parents and their young children, even those beyond the ages served by the programs of TLC.
TLC is a private, nonprofit agency, with a charter to help vulnerable pregnant women, infants and toddlers birth to age 3. It is staffed with 53 employees and is served by a handful of contractors.
“The most formative years of your life are pre-birth,” said Debbie Justice, director and founder of TLC.
TLC works with pregnant women for that reason, to offer women’s womb help; for example, Justice said “we always knew about the need for folic acid, but now we see women with high stress, bathing children with cortisol,” which she said is now known to cause developmental problems.
That is only the beginning of the help TLC offers. The programs of TLC offer developmental help to children until they reach the age of 3.
“When they turn 36-months old, we’re done,” Justice said. “Almost all of our services are at no cost to the families; it is paid for with public funds, we have a board of directors that stewards the funds to make sure we meet the eligible families.”
TLC’s purpose is to provide family support services through two programs: “Early Intervention,” for children showing any kind of developmental delay, and “Early Head Start,” for low-income pregnant women and families.
Justice said her mandate is to find every single child in the areas served, Washington County and Beaver Dam to Fredonia, Ariz., children who: (1) are developmentally behind, not walking, talking when they should be, or are demonstrating atypical behavior for that age; (2) have a diagnosis that indicates they will in all probability begin to be delayed in motor skills or communication skills; and (3) fall into the magical area where when TLC gives them a test, not IQ tests but developmental tests, a child will pass but something will be very odd. (Justice gave an example of a child who can stack blocks but does so with a tremor.)
“More than half of the children we work with will never need special education, special resource [ongoing],” she said.
She said this is because TLC is doing developmental testing so, for example, a two year old not talking is unusual, but TLC works with them and it’s a transient condition, not related to anything else.
“We base it on how the child is functioning and if there is something presenting, it doesn’t matter what the label is, we’re not the label makers, (that requires a pediatrician or a mental health professional to give the label) and when we’re done, over half of them get better.”
Justice said that the other half will go into special education for a period of time, some a long period of time; through special education programs in schools it lasts until [they are] age 21. For example, [these include children with] serious diseases like cerebral palsy.
“I can’t tell you how many have downs syndrome or autism and they leave still without needing additional help.”
Justice gave some anecdotes:
“I was called to do an assessment on a child, the mother was quite desperate, the child kinda passed the test, I told her I don’t believe he qualifies, started to pack up my stuff to go, he threw a lamp at me – a two year old! That’s insane – it was such a violent tantrum that I said, ‘how often does this happen?’ She said 10 times a day.’” Justice said that 10 tantrums a day is not unusual for a two year old but the occurrence of 10 tantrums that last half an hour each is very unusual. “We worked with him, he ended up an Olympian and entered West Point.”
In another instance, Justice described a child with autism. She said they found the child had autism; he “didn’t give any eye contact, couldn’t be held; what he did was stick his tongue out and licked the perimeter of the wall of the room – sure enough he ended up diagnosed with autism; but by the time he got to the school district [after being served by TLC], they found him with a mild communication disorder, a little bit of language and speech needs, he was toilet trained, he could cuddle, he gave eye contact, played with toys and children appropriately.”
The other program has to do with TLC working with the families within their routines with children having these kinds of needs.
“We are not the miracle workers,” said Justice. She described accompanying a family to the grocery store with one of these children. “If you close your eyes and you’re staring at ceiling of a grocery store, [focused on the] nasty acoustic [ceiling], if you’re downs [syndrome] you don’t see the bananas, gum on the wrap, the kind of stimulation most children have; so we go to the grocery store with the parents, this is the way to help your child to have a full shopping experience, we help problem solving …”
Justice said that 10 years ago they began assisting pregnant women, infants and toddlers from low income families with significant challenges; most primary are homeless, families at the Dove center, teen parents, those in situations of too much domestic violence, some substance abuse, all sorts of families where parents are intellectually impaired and the children are typically developing (that’s usually a high risk situation). The latter are situations where the children are developing normally but are compromised by the limitations or conditions impacting their parents.
How programs like that offered by The Learning Center have emerged, Justice explained: “When they finally passed this special ed law, what happened previously is that we knew of children special, they went off to somewhere or nowhere – I grew up across the street from a child of spinal bifida and she went nowhere … parents are saying I am paying for education, what the heck? … education of all handicapped law, as it was called originally, now it’s called ‘Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act,’ … so in ’73-‘74 they first started this, but the issue was this is great but you have parents sitting home with a child with downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, … and couldn’t get help until age 3. So in around 1987, that law came into effect for funds for earlier age.
“I was first working with a program at 5th and Olive in South Central Los Angeles; in 1993 I wrote a grant proposal to the … Utah Dept of Health (which funds the program in this state), so then we started the program in 1993. When we started we had 18 families, now we’re serving over 450, so it grew and grew and grew. Meanwhile we picked up families from Ariz. in 1994 , [through the] Department of Economic Security.”
Justice summed up the bigger picture of her’s and TLC’s goal this way: “Everything we know about education, productivity, putting America to work, is how capable we are as people; if 10 percent are incapable from childhood, [this impairs America as a whole]. So we’re really trying to find those kiddos early because we can either make the problems go away or ameliorate them so it won’t be so costly [economically and socially].”
To inquire about TLC’s Sept. 23 Open House or about your child’s behavior and development, call 435-673-5353, and visit TLC’s website for more information.
Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.
Photos courtesy of TLC – TLC Kiddos