/Most Mississippi children miss out on critical developmental screenings

Most Mississippi children miss out on critical developmental screenings

Spaulding decided to enroll her daughter in Head Start in Biloxi. However, a developmental screening showed that she was not learning at her level. Further tests revealed that the little girl couldn’t hear properly due to fluid in her ears. Spaulding stated that the fluid in her eardrum caused Spaulding to see Spaulding’s daughter walk and talk slowly. She wasn’t connecting dots. Screenings revealed the problem and led to solutions. Spaulding’s 16-year-old daughter was able to receive treatment. Spaulding now works at the Moore Community House Early Head Start program in Biloxi as a family health specialist. “I wouldn’t have been able get any of this without the screening.” Spaulding’s experience is not common in this state. According to a survey, only 17% of Mississippi children under 3 years old had completed developmental screenings in 2016. This is the lowest rate in the nation and far below the national average of 30%. Mississippi children are often not able to access the services and treatments they need to catch up with their peers. Experts in early childhood say that the situation is improving. The Mississippi Thrive Child Health and Development Project, which is funded by a $17million federal grant, has spent five years improving children’s development health. This includes increasing screenings. Although Mississippi has been moving closer to the middle of the pack in terms of screenings, this still means that most children are not being screened. Dr. Susan Buttross, University of Mississippi Medical Center pediatrician, is the principal investigator. An estimated 15% of Mississippi’s children have a developmental delay. This affects their ability to learn, and influences how teachers and their peers view them. Spaulding is concerned about their future as they try to learn in classrooms not designed to provide them with individual attention. She said, “If your shoes aren’t tied like Johnny’s shoes, it’s not right.” “That child must find their way. They are lost. They’re lost. They are called “developmental screening”. This involves reviewing a checklist to determine if a child has reached the milestones required for their age. Spaulding’s center has a screening for babies aged 3 months and under. It asks caregivers questions such as: “Does your baby smile when he talks to you?” Screenings are a way to identify if a child may have a developmental delay early. Research has shown that intervention before the child is five years old can improve long-term outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians perform screenings as part of routine check-ups since 2001. Screenings have not been universalized for more than 20 years. A study found that less than 20% of Mississippi’s children under 3 years old were screened in 2016. Rates varied across the country with Oregon having the highest rate at 60%. Buttross stated that many Mississippi children don’t have access to a primary care pediatrician. Mississippi has half its population living in rural areas. Some counties lack a single pediatrician. Children without a pediatrician can get medical care at an urgent care center or emergency room, but they do not have a “medical home” that tracks their health and development over time. Some state pediatricians were trained decades ago before universal developmental screening was a goal and evidence-based tools were widespread. Buttross stated that children with milder delays were often not found. Buttross stated that many children with milder delays were not discovered. Buttross stated that healthy children are a sign of a healthy future. Therefore, it is important to take good care of your kids from birth and link them to the needed services. This will make you and your state more financially secure. Child care providers are especially useful in screenings, given Mississippi’s limited access to pediatricians. This has been proven by Head Start for over a decade. Federally funded child care centers provide services for infants and toddlers of low-income families. They are required to conduct developmental screenings as part of their operating rules. According to a 2021 study conducted by the Children’s Foundation of Mississippi, Head Start centers make up only 10% of Mississippi’s childcare providers. However, 30% of all developmental screenings performed by child care providers were done by them, according to the Children’s Foundation of Mississippi. Over half of the state’s childcare centers did not undergo screenings. Nita Norphlet Thompson, executive director at the Mississippi Head Start Association called developmental screenings “a cornerstone of Head Start programming.” Head Start has centers in every 82 county. It serves 23,000 mothers, toddlers, and infants. Each child who enrolls receives a physical and a dental exam. They also get screenings for speech, vision and overall development. The center will refer a family to an audiologist if a child fails their hearing screening. Head Start covers the cost of treatment if the family is unable to pay. These results will guide the center’s goals and instruction for each child. Norphlet Thompson said, “How can you tell where to take a child?” Friends of Children of Mississippi’s executive director, Cathy Gaston, explained that Head Start services are coordinated with schools to ensure children get services as soon as possible. She said that screenings also offer a chance to get started very early. “Many times you find that by the time your child reaches school age, they have sort of worked through these things.” What is it going to take to increase developmental screenings in Mississippi. Head Start leaders suggested that all child care providers should be required to screen their children. Buttross stated that mandatory developmental screenings could make it difficult for centers to function, possibly affecting their ability. She said, “If child care is required, the worst thing that we could do it is to create a barrier.” A “gold star” could be created to reward child care centers who provide developmental screenings. Gaston stated that Head Start and other programs could partner with underserved organizations to host free screening events. Incentives programs for parents, as well as more mobile services, could be helpful. She said, “You have to be willing to travel to rural areas where there is a challenge.” Buttross’s team also found another problem. Parents are not always able find specialists to treat developmental delays. Private health insurance policies may not cover speech therapy. The state’s Early Intervention Program is supposed to allow families of children with developmental delays to receive free services. Head Start leaders stated that families sometimes face delays accessing services due to staffing and funding problems. Norphlet Thompson, who has been with Head Start since 1988, stated that she and her colleagues have always recognized the importance of developmental screenings. She’s noticed more discussion about the topic in Mississippi over the years. She said, “We are so happy that everyone else is catching up.”