Reaching for things. Playing and exploring. Rolling over. Sitting up. Talking. These are just some of the milestones that most young children reach as they grow and develop. But what if your child has difficulty mastering these skills? That’s what happened to Bernetta Gethers, whose 15-month-old son Kathir made sounds to convey his needs instead of talking. His mother knew he should have been saying words; she has two older children. During a health services visit to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Gethers mentioned her concern. A social worker gave her the number for ChildLink and Gethers soon received a home visit from her service coordinator. ChildLink arranged for an evaluation for Kathir to determine the need for early intervention services and to achieve outcomes important to his family. Shortly after, Kathir began receiving services from Terry Lubin, an early intervention special instructor with the KenCrest Infant and Toddler Program. “Terry has been my savior,” says Gethers. “I’m really, really impressed with ChildLink, they are all really caring. They’ve met my needs and Kathir’s needs,” she adds.

We look at everything; we look at the whole child in the context of their family and community."

Since 1992, ChildLink has provided early intervention service coordination to Philadelphia children, birth to age three with developmental delays or disabilities, and their families. Under contract with the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, PHMC administers the ChildLink Philadelphia County Program. Over the years, ChildLink has provided a gateway to early intervention services for more than 60,000 children living in Philadelphia County. ChildLink designs the services for the individual and provides them at no cost to families.

“Our services are family focused, not based on a medical model,” says ChildLink supervisor Marilyn Edmond. “We look at everything; we look at the whole child in the context of their family and community.” Within two weeks of a referral, a ChildLink service coordinator visits the home to discuss a family’s concerns and the need for early intervention services. By the end of that visit, the service coordinator schedules an evaluation to determine eligibility for services. Eligible families receive an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), which documents and guides the services necessary to facilitate a child’s development and enhance the family’s capacity to participate in that process. Once the IFSP is developed, ChildLink obtains a service provider, such as Lubin, from a qualified early intervention provider organization. To be eligible for services, a child must have at least a 25% delay in one of the following developmental areas: cognitive, communication, physical (including hearing and vision), social, emotional or adaptive; have a diagnosed condition with a high probability for a developmental delay; or have a 25% delay based on the informed clinical opinion of a qualified evaluator.

Last year, communication delays affected more than 60% of children referred to ChildLink. Over 60% were referred at age 12 months or older, when children typically begin talking and walking.

The child’s family, service coordinator and early interventionists become a team to help the child reach his or her maximum potential.

Kathir’s special instructor, Lubin, used a range of techniques to help the toddler deal with his frustration with his inability to talk. “He used play, made it a game for my son to learn to say what he wanted,” says Gethers. “He involved the whole family and encouraged the other children to interact with Kathir to help him out,” she adds. Now Kathir is saying individual words and using sign language to better communicate. Recently a speech therapist also began working with Kathir, who at two years old now can string words together into sentences.

What does Gethers like most about ChildLink? “The in-home thing is super convenient. I don’t know if I’d be able to get to all those appointments,” she says. The staff work around Gethers’s schedule, even coming on Saturdays. “ChildLink works with you. They help you help your child,” she adds.

Early intervention staff from a variety of disciplines, including teachers who specialize in early childhood development, provide the services. Physical, speech and occupational therapists participate when appropriate. The child’s family, service coordinator and early interventionists become a team to help the child reach his or her outcomes and maximum potential. Progress is monitored at quarterly review sessions in the home. Children reaching age three who still need early intervention services are transitioned to the Preschool Early Intervention system, which is responsible for early intervention services for children age three to school age.

“It’s important that families understand the services they are receiving,” says Edmonds. All ChildLink paperwork is available in a variety of languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and French. In addition, interpreters are available for visits with ChildLink service coordinators and early intervention providers.

ChildLink provides early intervention services to almost 5,000 children each year, receiving as many as 500 referrals monthly. “We just love working with the babies,” says Edmonds.

ChildLink for Homeless Children

Homeless children comprise a special population served by a number of PHMC programs, including ChildLink. Many homeless children undergo a variety of changes and upheavals in their living environments and lack a regular source of health care, so developmental delays can be missed. In 2007, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services developed its Homeless Project, which works directly with child specialists in eight Philadelphia homeless shelters. There, a PHMC social worker screens young children for developmental delays and refers those who may need services to a ChildLink service coordinator specializing in homeless families. Families receive care while at the shelter and after they transition into housing. Last year, almost 3.5% of ChildLink’s caseload had been homeless at some time in their lives.