Many local families are happy that in-person support services for young children who have been moved to virtual due to COVID-19 are rebounding in Routt County as the pandemic abates.
“Families need connection, and they want the social interactions for parents, caregivers, and children,” said Colleen Miller, executive director of the nonprofit Family Development Center of Steamboat Springs. “We were able to go virtual, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with a parent and a child.”
Local organizations are reintroducing or offering new services for children, ranging from in-person South Routt Play and Learn to a new handwriting superhero group through the UCHealth SportsMed Clinic at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Miller thinks some local families don’t realize how many free or low-cost services for young children are available in Routt County.
“We’ve needed families more to connect and build relationships with other parents and other caregivers because families have been isolated for the past two years,” Miller said.
Classes at the Family Development Center are still socially distanced with optional masks and use increased air purification or take place outdoors if possible, as COVID-19 vaccinations are not available for children aged 4 years and under.
“Currently, our services are underutilized as we return to in-person services after a difficult two and a half years. We continue to offer services through Zoom to families who are more comfortable with this option,” said Sharon Butler, program manager and parent educator for the center’s Child Care and Newborn Networks.
Back in person since February, South Routt Play and Learn is a free group that promotes child development and meets twice a week at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the South Routt Community Center. The group offers activity sessions for children aged 0-36 months and their parents or guardians. This week’s topic, for example, is everyday tools for learning to read.
Another free in-person drop-off offer is Baby Group Connections at 11 a.m. Wednesdays at Steamboat. This week’s topic is games for babies that support development, and the April 20 program focuses on babies and screen time to promote a healthy start with technology.
As more young children are exposed to technology and increased screen time, experts say fine motor skills like handwriting suffer, said Mary Beth Strotbeck, director of UCHealth SportsMed Clinics. , including the Specialty Pediatric Therapy Clinic which opened in 2002. The clinics provide physical care, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
The Steamboat Pediatric Therapy Clinic will create a new small group called Handwriting Superheroes in June, led by Heather Anderson, a pediatric occupational therapist who started at SportsMed in late 2021.
Strotbeck and Anderson said that an increasing number of children have weakness in the area of fine motor skills in the wrist and hands. They suggest that young children spend less time on electronic devices and more time on fine motor work like putting together puzzles, coloring lines, practicing letter writing, building with blocks or using scissors to cut out objects.
Handwriting Superheroes is designed to help children ages 4-6 teach upper and lower case letters using handwriting without tears with guidance from an occupational therapist. The four-week course costs $140. (Registration is available by calling 970-879-8826.)
The pediatric therapist said some of the major developmental delays in young patients she sees include problems with emotional regulation as children try to figure out what to do when they become frustrated or angry, fine motor deficits, genetic disorders, infantile torticollis or neck rotation problems, and infant feeding therapy, which can help prevent feeding problems later in childhood.
In the past, families traveled to Denver for food therapy, Anderson said, such as for difficulties with babies adjusting from a liquid diet to a soft diet or other food aversion issues. .
Among other local services for young children, Parents as Teachers is a Family Development Center program that offers individualized home visits with information on child development and parenting for families. The free services are available to Routt County families who are expecting or have a child under 36 months of age. Parents as Teachers also includes group social bonding, health and developmental screenings, a family resource network and community expert talks.
The center also offers a “Warmline” made up of experienced and trained parent educators. Callers at 970-879-0977 can ask for help with parenting questions or information about community resources.
Northwest Colorado Health also recently brought back offerings for young children that went virtual during the pandemic. The Nurse-Family Partnership is a free program that provides regular home visits by specially trained nurses during pregnancy and up to the child’s second birthday.
SafeCare is a free support program for parents and caregivers of children 5 and under who need extra support to keep their families safe and healthy. Providers help parents build their existing skills in parent-child interactions, home safety, and child health.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email [email protected]