WORCESTER, Mass — Criterion Child Enrichment, the largest provider of early intervention services in Central Massachusetts, held a Legislative Breakfast and Open House on Monday morning to celebrate the opening of a new early intervention program site in Worcester.
In attendance at Monday’s opening was State Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury), along with parents and children eager to access high-quality early intervention services.
“As the Chairman of the Higher Education Committee, I know how important early learning is for success later on, and plays a critical role in closing the state’s achievement gap in education. I thank Criterion for opening their doors to Worcester area families,” said the State Senator.
Moore said that one thing he has learned as chairman is that addressing the needs of children through early intervention services gives children the proper foundation, "so that when they enter schools, we have hopefully identified and addressed issues in order to prepare them for their future in education."
Criterion Child Enrichment provides early intervention services to 69 communities in the Commonwealth. These programs cater to children between birth and three years of age who experience developmental delay or are at risk of developmental delay as a result of health or environmental factors.
Specialist teams of educators, therapists, social workers, psychologists, and nurses work directly with parents and young children to re-mediate and prevent developmental delay. The cornerstone of early intervention success is the use of family education to enable parents to incorporate intervention strategies into their daily routines.
Moore not only met the staff, but also had the opportunity to see some of the families and children who have been part of the program.
"I've seen how well the therapists and counselors interact with the children," he said, adding that "one benefit of the program is that the fifty clients that they have here also get some residential treatment at the house, so it's a family setting, and they get the comfort of their own home surroundings — which hopefully would lead to more development."
In fact, the primary focus of early intervention is family education, training and support. The early intervention program is designed to enable parents and other caregivers to realistically assess the child's developmental needs, incorporate educational and therapeutic strategies into daily routines and utilize available community resources.
While 90 percent of all services happen in the home, the center allows for a focus on group interaction as well, giving kids social play opportunities.
In addition to the site at 338 Plantation Street in Worcester, The Criterion Worcester Early Intervention Network also has satellite locations in Holden and Worcester, and additionally serves the towns of Boylston, Leicester, Paxton, Shrewsbury, and West Boylston.
Furthermore, after 26 years, Criterion has expanded to become one of the largest providers of early intervention services in the state, and along the way the program has made a significant impact on the lives of many families.
Statewide, Criterion serves over 4,500 families each year according to Dr. Robert Littleton, Founder and President of Criterion Child Enrichment and a leading expert in the treatment of children with developmental disorders.
“Early intervention programs are highly successful,” said Littleton. “Key to every child reaching their highest potential is identifying and treating any developmental challenges that might present as early as possible.”
Littleton added that the key to the programs' success has been the support received from families, and the quality of the personnel.
"We have a really high quality staff," he said. "We're able to recruit and retain some very skilled people, and they are really the heart and soul of the program."
Littleton also said that this has been tremendously rewarding work to be involved in.
"After they've had their earliest experience at the hospital, we're the first people other than their families that will be working with them. So we're working with them at a time when we see them take their first steps, so it's really wonderful to celebrate their accomplishments along with their parents and their families."
Kathy Asselin, program director for the Worcester network, has also been in the field for a long time, and says that the most rewarding part has been to see the growth of the children and the families, and "being able to notice that we do make a difference."
"A lot of times, families are a little bit nervous in the beginning," she said. "You're coming to their house and they don't know what to expect, and then, we help them to understand the process and what they will get out of early intervention. So they see the value of it and they see as well the changes their children make."
In line with this, Jo-ann Otlin, Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services, said that after thirty years in the field, the time that is particularly rewarding is seeing how even when a family starts out with a less than optimistic outlook, their attitude can change once they begin to see their child's developmental gains through participation in early intervention.
"The impact we make is a lifelong impact," she said. "It changes the outlook of the famiy from the beginning, which ultimately is going to change the child's life — because parents become much more optimistic about what their child is capable of."
Children between birth and three years of age who were born with a disability or health condition that affects their development are eligible to receive services. Children who were born prematurely; have feeding, vision or hearing issues; are slow to crawl, sit, walk, talk or do things for themselves; have behavior or attention difficulties; or have been identified as having environmental risk factors may also be eligible.
Parents are encouraged to call the early intervention program if they have any concerns related to their child's development.
To learn more about the progam, visit www.criterionchild.com