Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania Supports Kindergarten Readiness Through Make the First Five Count Program

Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania Supports Kindergarten Readiness Through Make the First Five Count Program

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(March 31, 2023 – Allentown, Pennsylvania) Many parents are unsure what developmental markers their children should be achieving, especially when it comes time for kindergarten enrollment. Similarly, parents who are concerned that their child is not advancing at an appropriate pace are often unaware of the services available in their community, not knowing where to turn for answers and support. That is where Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania steps in with the Make the First Five Count initiative. Since 2014, with grants from local funders, Easterseals has helped provide support services to parents and children up to age five, ensuring children at risk of developmental delays, disabilities or autism have what they need to be school ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

“Whether it is through screenings, support services, workshops or taking a call to answer a parent’s question, we want to help families track their child’s development, celebrate their progress, and act early if there is a concern,” says Jill Glose, Vice President, Clinical Services at Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania. “It is a program that can benefit every child and parent.”

Make the First Five Count began in the Lehigh Valley and then expanded into Berks County in 2017. “We have completed over 6,000 screenings and provided referral services or monitoring activities to over 1,800 children identified as having a possible developmental delay or disability,” says Glose. “And this was made possible through community partnerships and grant funding provided by local supporters.”

The Harry C. Trexler Trust was instrumental in launching the program in Allentown and supporting its growth and development in Lehigh County over the years. A recent, multi-year grant from United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley will position the program to serve even more children across the Lehigh Valley. In Berks County, the program is funded by the United Way of Berks County. Aligning nicely with the literacy and education initiatives of these funding agencies, Make the First Five Count creates an opportunity to work collaboratively with schools and other nonprofits to support their efforts to advance language and literacy development of children, from birth to five years old.

“Intervention prior to kindergarten has huge academic, social and economic benefits,” states Mindy McCormick, President & CEO of Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania. “As children grow older, the skills they acquire through early intervention programs develop into more complex skills related to language, number literacy, socialization, and cooperative play. Children who receive early treatment for developmental delays build a stronger foundation for success in the classroom and beyond.”

For school districts, early childhood interventions can reduce the need for remedial education and special education placements, thereby lowering public school expenditures. For example, a public elementary school in Lehigh County spends an average of $10,436 to $15,048 annually to educate a child. Providing remedial or special education services for a child can add an additional $26,000-$53,000 annually depending on the level of support and amount of services received.

Through the Make the First Five Count program, parents have access to free developmental screening tools, workshops, and supplemental support. An Easterseals child development specialist provides parents with a detailed explanation of the screening results, referrals to appropriate resources, support in understanding their options, and activities that they can do at home to reinforce their child’s skills development.

“This holistic approach helps parents understand what is happening with their child, what to expect from county agencies, and how to advocate for their child,” says Jill Glose. “Imparting this knowledge empowers parents to address their child’s needs, allays fears, and removes confusion. Parents even have the opportunity to re-screen the child over time to see if the interventions are having the desired impact.”

When Easterseals was experiencing situations with many families expressing frustration with wait times for services after a referral or children needing more support than they were getting, they added Supplemental Developmental Support to Make the First Five Count. This bridge program connects parents with a child development specialist for individualized sessions to provide learning activities and intervention strategies they can implement while waiting for services to begin.

“We look to identify gaps in services and ways we can bring the expertise we have in early childhood development and disability services to meet critical needs in the community,” states McCormick. “And we leverage partnerships and collaborations with school districts, nonprofit organizations, pediatricians, and childcare centers to reach as many children and families as we can.”

Learn more about Make the First Five Count, the free screenings, workshops and other resources on Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania’s website at Easterseals.com/esep.

About Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania

Easterseals Eastern Pennsylvania serves children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities, autism, and other social, sensory, and developmental disorders and their families through various programs designed to increase independence, maximize opportunities, minimize barriers, and enhance the quality of life. Throughout the Lehigh Valley, Berks County, and northeastern Pennsylvania, Easterseals fosters environments where everyone is included and empowered regardless of ability.


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