March 9, 2015
Making a difference in the life of a child at an early age can mean the world–to both the family and the community.
Randy Tallent knew two things right away: mom was overwhelmed and the baby needed help. Mom was young, mere weeks removed from giving birth and still existing in a post partum haze. Her little girl’s head was tilted one way and the tiny bones in her face were asymmetrical. During the visit, mom was anxious, withdrawn and tearful and constantly looking to her mother for support.
Randy had to tread lightly, so she comforted mom, assured her and gave her some tips to take pressure off the child’s neck–ways to hold her, lay her down in her crib, position her during feedings. Mom came back next week. She was more at ease, less anxious and took Randy’s advice to seek pediatric therapy. Three months later, the little girl is still in therapy, but she’s improved and strengthened and mom has followed suit. She is more confident and actively participates in her daughter’s therapy.
It is one story of hundreds. Randy is a Child Development Specialist, a 32-year veteran of early intervention, who serves between 30 and 40 young children a week. The Baby Steps program is supported by local community health care centers with funding by United Way of the Greater Seacoast, and is built to provide parent support and development screening to primarily low-income, at-risk children.
When parents bring their children to one of four locations–Goodwin Community Health, Families First and the Raymond and Newmarket locations of Lamprey Health Care–Randy is one of the first people they see.
Prior to the children’s health checks, she addresses growth, nutrition, behaviors, motor skills, sleep patterns and social abilities. Simultaneously she teaches the parents, offering education tips and resources surrounding their children’s overall development. And, when necessary, she makes referrals to additional early supports.
“It is such a critical service,” she says. “We know that as far as brain development goes this is the time where we can have an effective change. I am in there and I know it makes a difference.”
All of this happens, usually, within the space of ten minutes. There are many families and not a lot of time.
“With Baby Steps, we are addressing the child in the context of their families,” Randy says. “We know the children do best when their families do best, when their parents are confident and supported. I can’t imagine what it would be like for them if we weren’t able to do this.”
Recently, Randy was able to share her experiences at a United Way women’s event. As she stood at the podium, clicking through images of children and families, sharing stories and relaying the power of the Baby Steps program, she found herself deeply moved.
“I was overwhelmed by this group of philanthropists,” she says. “They’re investing in the basic well-being of families that they may never come face to face with. They don’t get to meet them, they don’t hear their stories first-hand, but they’re committed to making their lives better.”
So Randy brings the message. She tells the stories. And the themes are the same: it’s not easy work, the results are not immediate and the journey can be tough. But there are few things more important to a community than this.