Program helps youngest Tulalips

A pilot program that aims to assess the social development of infants will be used for the first time ever at a child-care center on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

The Tulalip Tribes have paid $4,000 to bring the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, or DECA, to the Tulalip Early Beginnings Childcare Center, which serves tribal children. The program is being administered through United Way of Snohomish County.

“Even one child is a huge impact in our community, so if we can help one child, it makes the program worth it,” Tulalip Tribes General Manager Shelly Lacy said.

About half of the tribe’s nearly 4,000 members are under the age of 18, Lacy said.

Several years ago, the Tulalip Tribes also gave a $25,000 grant to United Way of Snohomish County to kick off the DECA program for school-age children in local schools.

“Now, they asked us to bring it in for their younger kids,” United Way spokeswoman Deborah Squires said. The Verizon Foundation also pitched in $15,000.

DECA was developed by the Devereux Early Childhood Initiative, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization. The program was recently expanded to include assessments for infants and toddlers.

The program is unique because it is designed to identify social and behavioral issues in children younger than those normally assessed, said Bunny Walters, United Way’s early learning program manager.

Child-care providers are trained to observe infants for behavior, including the frequency that they appear content or upset, and whether they appear to be attached to family members or child-care workers. Each assessment is used to determine whether the child could benefit from specific activities or environments.

Most assessment programs don’t begin identifying a child’s challenges until they begin preschool or kindergarten, Walters said, and some children don’t get the necessary attention to correct behavioral problems until later.

“The mind, from birth to 3 years old, develops faster than at any other time in life,” Walters said. “We don’t want to wait to work with them until they’re 6 to get them ready for school. We can have the most impact by starting with the youngest.”

Walters began training child-care providers at Tulalip in August. Five other Snohomish County agencies are expected to begin using the infant assessment program in the coming months.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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