Merced College students taught need for kids' screenings

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 16, 2012 

Child development and nursing students at Merced College are learning about the importance of early health and developmental screenings for children.

The Raising Early Intervention Awareness for Children's Health program, also known as REACH, has been funded with a grant from First 5 Merced County for the past 12 years, said Donnell Smith, family service education coordinator at the college.

"The primary goal is to utilize a family service education program as a foundation to do outreach and to educate child development and nursing students regarding the importance of early health and developmental screening," she said.

The educational component is meant to teach the students why professionals do the screenings, why early intervention is important and where to go for services if any of the children are identified as at risk, Smith said.

Students can interact with the consultants who perform the screenings of the children, further broadening their understanding of the process and enhancing their education, she said.

Officials can identify children at risk as early as possible so the children can get the services they need to be successful later in life, Smith said. Through the program, children's speech, language, dental, vision, social and emotional needs are identified.

About 15 percent of the children screened usually need additional services, she said.

The screenings also give nursing students a better idea of the things that can hamper a child's ability to learn, she said. "It's kind of a multidimensional program," Smith said.

In the past three years, the program has served close to 500 children, and more than 800 college students have participated, she said.

"It's made a difference," Smith said. "It's made a real impact."

However, funding to help support the program is running out. First 5 Merced County provided a three-year grant worth a little more than $300,000, and then provided a six-month extension, which end Dec. 31.

The Merced College Child Development Center reapplied for the grant, but won't hear back from First 5 until next month, Smith said.

Funding to continue to offer the program is critical, she said. "But with the economy the way it is, all funding is definitely at risk right now," she added.

Marilyn Scorby, director of the Merced College Child Development Center, said it's critical to educate the future health care work force about the importance of early intervention and preparing children to enter kindergarten.

"They learn how important (the screenings) are. They're not difficult, and you can do them by just interacting with the child appropriately," she said.

"Some of these students will be the nurses at the local clinics," Scorby said, explaining the value of the program. "They are the ones who will be on the front lines."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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