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At The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers, Children and Families Find a Solid Foundation for Growth and Development

By Nancy Kennedy

The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers, Inc. is Allegheny County’s highly regarded, superbly effective provider of Early Intervention services for children ages 0 to 3. The Alliance has helped tens of thousands of families in Allegheny County give their children a solid early foundation for their lifelong growth and development and the fulfillment of their unique gifts. Founded in 1988 to provide Early Intervention services for low birthweight infants, The Alliance has since expanded its scope tremendously and was selected in 1992 by the state to be the Early Intervention Service Coordination Agency for all families in Allegheny County with concerns for their child’s development.

Over the course of three decades, The Alliance has evolved into a multifaceted gem of an organization. Well known and respected by professional partners throughout the region’s medical, education and social service systems, and cherished by families in every corner of the County, The Alliance has impacted countless lives. The Alliance serves families of every income level, ethnicity and family composition, fitting their broad array of services to the specific needs of the individual child and family.

At The Alliance, growth is a deeply imbedded value that permeates every aspect of the agency’s operations. It is evident in the infants who make progress through developmental assessment and interventions; in the families who learn, gain confidence and emerge as advocates for their children; and in the staff, an interdisciplinary team for whom ongoing education and training enhances their expertise and keeps them at the cutting edge of professional practice.

A family’s first encounter with The Alliance offers an introduction to the agency’s culture. The Alliance's Intake department consists of two highly trained staff who greet callers with skill, knowledge and warm caring. “Our intake department does an excellent job of talking to families, eliciting information and getting a sense of the family. They help the family understand what the next steps are; they’ll explain what a development assessment entails,” says Pat Latzy, Program Supervisor.

In Allegheny County, every child under the age of three is entitled to a developmental evaluation. Referrals to The Alliance come from pediatricians, NICUs, social workers and others, but many calls are initiated by parents who have concerns about their child’s development, or are seeking reassurance that their child is developing on track. “Among the common concerns are that the child is not talking or walking,” Latzy says. “There may be behavior or feeding issues. Parents may worry that their child is showing signs of Autism or has a hearing deficit.”

Children may receive a multidisciplinary developmental evaluation to determine eligibility for services. Those who are at risk for developmental delays are eligible for developmental monitoring, consisting of tracking to assess their progress. Children who do meet eligibility criteria, based on an identified diagnosis or delay, will get a unique plan known as an ISFP: Individualized Family Service Plan – and developmental support services. That could include physical, speech or occupational therapy or hearing and vision services. These developmental support services are collectively known as Early Intervention – services provided to children ages 0 to 3, designed to support the child’s development by building and enhancing the natural learning that occurs in the early years. “We also assist families when children are ready to transition to other supports and services at three years of age,” Latzy says.

Service Coordination is The Alliance’s primary role, explains Karin Shafer, Clinical Director. The professionals who provide this service are highly credentialed, with degrees in early childhood education or other relevant fields. Service coordinators monitor the child’s progress; they offer support and education to parents and make appropriate referrals. “Our service coordinators meet with families directly and help them find and access services,” says Shafer. “There are so many resources that it can be overwhelming,” adds Latzy. “Resources might include peer support groups, play groups, or child care. When we find a new resource, we share it.”

Helping families with advocacy is another important service. “Advocacy is an important role for a parent. We use a parent coaching model that provides families and therapists with an opportunity to work together to support each child’s growth and development; we provide education and support to help them gain confidence,” Shafer says. “We also have a Child Welfare program that is unique to The Alliance: each of the Child Welfare offices in Allegheny County has a member of our staff there as an Early Childhood Liaison.”

The Alliance has an Infant Mental Health specialist, Breinne Regan, who provides support to any parent or caregiver who is experiencing anxiety or depression, including postpartum depression. The specialist can assess attachment and screen the child for developmental delays.

The Alliance is currently serving 3400 children in the tracking and service coordination programs. “Our goal is to reach as many as possible,” says Karin Shafer. “No two children or families are alike, so our services are uniquely tailored to each child and family. At The Alliance, we’re all dedicated to enhancing the lives of infants and families. We see the impact of our work on a daily basis, and that’s the reward.”

To learn more about The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers, visit www.afit.org or call (412) 885-6000.

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