College of

Promoting Health and Development for At-Risk Infants and Toddlers

Friday, September 1, 2017 - 9:45am

By the time healthy, typically developing children reach age 3, they will have developed the essential cognitive, language and social-emotional competencies that lay the foundation for future success. If children experience delays during this critical period, early intervention can help maintain an appropriate developmental trajectory.

Infants and toddlers in poverty, however, experience a higher rate of developmental delay than that of their economically stable peers. For these children, delays often appear in multiple areas of development and are frequently accompanied by medical conditions as well. Moreover, the effects of developmental delay for low-income children are exacerbated by the social complexities associated with poverty, such as restricted access to developmental and healthcare services as well as parental supports. 

Unfortunately, existing systems of care that address these delays are not well integrated, further complicating the delivery of appropriate, effective care to children who need it most, said Patricia Manz, professor of School Psychology. Research in this area has been minimal thus far. 

Manz and a team of faculty in the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences have received a $100,000 accelerator grant from Lehigh to tackle the issue of Synergy of Care, which the team describes as “the concentration of integrated early- intervention services on mutual goals, actions, outcomes and accountability for low-income infants and toddlers who are at risk for or have been diagnosed with health conditions and developmental delay.” 

The project, titled “Synergy of Care: Promoting Healthy Development among Vulnerable Infants and Toddlers through Research, Practice and Policy,” will involve a qualitative foundational study to examine state policies and the service provision procedures of major healthcare, educational and family support services for low-income infants and toddlers at risk for health and developmental issues. 

“Some people think of integrated care as just the communication between systems that are located in different areas and they refer to each other. That’s really not integrated care,” said George DuPaul, professor of School Psychology and co-investigator on the project. “Integrated care, true integrated care, is where you have professionals from different backgrounds working hand in hand on cases at systemic levels. So it’s not just co-location… It’s where they actually conceptualize cases together. And I don’t think there are many places that are truly integrated yet.”

Each team member brings a particular expertise to the project, including policy analysis, early intervention  and integrated behavioral health. The team’s first step in summer 2017 was to explore existing programs and policies to determine the project’s direction. 

“What are the barriers among institutions of care as far as being able to collaborate with each other and share data or information with each other?”

Patricia Manz, Professor of School Psychology

“[We looked] at what we think are common, fairly major nationally known provisions of early intervention services for low-income children,” said Manz. “What are the actual practices? What are the barriers among institutions of care as far as being able to collaborate with each other and share data or information with each other?”

A close look at existing policies, said Brook Sawyer, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor of Teaching, Learning and Technology, will help the team determine “how [the policies] might explicitly or implicitly promote this silo kind of effect and how they don’t talk to each other.”  Likewise, she says, there might be “policies out there trying to do better at this. What do those look like?”

The experiences of those who give and receive care also will be essential pieces of the study. The team plans to interview and conduct focus groups with practitioners and the parents and families of children who require care. Their perspectives, said Sirry Alang, assistant professor of Sociology and Anthropology, are “important in terms of building a model or a framework that looks at services as a whole, not as different pieces.” 

Team members look forward to learning from each other through interdisciplinary collaboration—and the results such collaboration might yield. 

“Typically, programs work in their own little silos, even with their own language,” said Brenna Wood, associate professor of Special Education. “[This project brings] great minds together, [enhanced by] everybody’s area of focus. I am excited to see the work that will start coming out of this collaboration.” 

• Patrica Manz specializes in maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting. 

• George DuPaul brings his expertise in pediatric school psychology and integrated behavioral health. 

• Brenna Wood brings her knowledge of Part C early intervention and behavior intervention. 

• Brook Sawyer is an expert in early childhood education and child care centers. 

• Sirry Alang will contribute her expertise in policy analysis and in health care disparities related to poverty.