HCN News & Notes

Hundreds of Massachusetts Children Assessed in First-ever Developmental Screening Week

SPRINGFIELD — Families with young children throughout Massachusetts have taken part in the first-ever community approach to early screening for developmental delays and disabilities.

In April 2023, the Massachusetts Act Early Campaign held the inaugural Massachusetts Developmental Monitoring and Screening Week at more than 30 sites across the Commonwealth, including six in Springfield.

The campaign was designed to generate conversations about child development and increase awareness of the importance of developmental monitoring and screening. The response rate to follow-up surveys indicates approximately 500 children were either screened or completed a developmental-monitoring checklist during the week-long event.

Campaign co-sponsors included United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Boston’s Children’s Hospital, the state’s Head Start Assoc., and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition programs. Children who did not pass the screen or developmental-monitoring checklist were referred to their pediatrician and/or Family TIES of Massachusetts. Participating families were also provided with “Learn the Signs. Act Early” informational pamphlets.

The screening week was co-led by American International College Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy Kate Barlow and Carla Therriault from United Way of Massachusetts Bay. Barlow has been serving as the Act Early ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 2019.

Massachusetts Act Early aims to educate parents and professionals about healthy childhood development, early warning signs of autism and other developmental disorders, the importance of routine developmental monitoring and screening, and timely early intervention whenever there is a concern. To identify children with delays, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental screenings be conducted at pediatric wellness visits for infants and toddlers.

However, Barlow said, “more than half of the children who need early-intervention services are not receiving them, which is why developmental monitoring and screening in the community are so important. Early-intervention services are free to families in Massachusetts, yet families do not have access.”

Barlow calls the screening events especially timely given the release of the Massachusetts Early Childhood Agenda in January, listing developmental monitoring and screening as a top initiative. She represents the Massachusetts Act Early Campaign as the lead advocate for that initiative as well. “The statewide initiative to raise awareness was a great success, but we need a champion in the State House to make effective change in Massachusetts,” she said.

Barlow is offering to share the structure of the campaign with her counterparts in other states so the effort to monitor and screen children early can be replicated in other parts of the country. Those who would like more information may email her at kate.barlow@aic.edu.