Creating Spaces for Young Families to Make Friends, Find Resources
Seeking to fill what it sees as a program need for expectant moms, mothers with newborns through age one year, and young families with children up to the age of five, Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services (YFS) has initiated two new pilot programs: Mom Zone and an Early Childhood Resource Fair.
“[T]here really [weren’t] any immediately available programs for expectant mothers and mothers of children [age] one and under for peer support groups but also peer gatherings,” said YFS clinician Chelsea Graham. “I was having a really hard time finding one on the shoreline [for] getting knowledge from moms for moms. So we came up and developed Mom Zone.”
A new monthly meeting that began in September, Mom Zone not only gives babies and toddlers up to the age of 18 months time to play on their own and together, but provides opportunities for mothers and expectant mothers to connect and share knowledge, advice, and experiences. Mom Zone meets for 45 minutes the third Tuesday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the Vicki Duffy Pavilion, 155 College Street. Future meetings are scheduled for January, February, and March 2020.
Graham also test-drove an Early Childhood Resource Fair at the pavilion in early December. The fair brought together a wide range of community organizations and businesses that serve expectant moms and young families, from Head Start to Dance Dynamics Dance Studio and Birth to Three to ABC Shoreline Gymnastics. While only a few moms turned up for this first event, Graham hopes to repeat it in the spring.
Graham said that the Mom Zone meetings provided her with insight into the lack of awareness about programs available for the youngest of children as well as for expectant moms. Resources are available, but information about them can be cumbersome to gather, particularly when families have multiple children and needs.
A woman who is pregnant with her first child and meets income requirements, for instance, may be eligible for the free care and guidance of a nurse through the Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut. The program helps women “achieve healthier pregnancies and births, stronger child development, and a path toward economic self-sufficiency,” according to its website.
LEARN in Old Lyme provides Birth to Three services for families in Old Saybrook and surrounding towns, including Westbrook and Clinton. Whether the program is contacted by a pediatrician, educator, or the family itself, it will conduct a complete evaluation of the child in his or her home. Children qualify for services if they have a significant developmental delay in one area or a moderate delay in two or more areas. Services are then provided in the child’s home, at a daycare facility, or even at the library, the children’s museum in Niantic, or other locations, based on the need and situation. Costs are assessed on a sliding scale, based on income.
Birth to Three is one of the referral programs for Kathleen E. Goodwin Elementary School’s Early Childhood Special Education Program, which has four classrooms, three of which provide special education. Applications are also taken each year for children to serve as “typical peers.” Each class takes no more than 15 students and the ratio of children with special needs to “developmentally appropriate” students is 50:50 at most.
While there are sometimes waitlists for the program, th program tries to admit every student, and every child was accepted for the 2019–’20 academic year, said Cindy Zajac, the district’s special education coordinator. The program provides occupational and physical therapists as well as speech and language specialists.
The Acton Public Library has kits for young children that can be checked out for home use. Each has a special theme and includes books, toys, and DVDs; one of the most popular focuses on potty training. The library offers a baby and toddler story time and playtime as well as music and story times for pre-schoolers. Local newborns receive gift bags with Old Saybrook onesies, hand-knit hats, a book, and information about local programs and businesses. The library also has toys and a play area for little ones.
Resources for Young and Expecting Families
• The Nurse-Family Partnership of Eastern Connecticut in Waterford serves New London and Middlesex Counties; For more information, visit www.vnasc.org.
• LEARN is located in Old Lyme. Further information about its Birth to Three program may be found at www.learn.k12.ct.us.
• For more information on Connecticut Head Start programs, visit ctheadstart.org.
• Applications for typical peers in the Goodwin School’s Early Childhood Special Education Program are due by Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. To apply, call 860-395-3165 or visit oldsaybrookschools.org.
• Hours and program information for the Acton Public Library may be found at actonlibrary.org.