September 17, 2009
09-139

Jennifer Tanner
Communications Specialist

Behind the Scenes of Service

VSU's participation in Babies Can't Wait helps to change families' lives

VALDOSTA - Like many middle school students, 13-year-old JP Mullis is inquisitive, energetic, outgoing and tech savvy. Born with Down syndrome, JP participated in an early intervention program - Babies Can’t Wait (BCW) - that empowered the Valdosta Middle School student to join his peers in the classroom and seize the wonders of everyday life.

"J.P. may require more support than other students in his class, but he is still successful,” said his mother, Lorna Mullis, '82, who works as a BCW program specialist and family facilitator. "His speech has been greatly impacted by the Down syndrome, but he is amazing with technology; He can search, record and watch his favorite shows on satellite TV or Google them online."

Lorna’s older brother had Down syndrome, so she was familiar with the genetic condition characterized by varying degrees of cognitive and physical developmental delays; but she and her husband, David, were unfamiliar with the latest approaches in the field of early intervention.

“We had a lot of questions when we were at the hospital after JP was born, but the pediatrician and head nurse knew exactly where to send us for answers and guidance - Babies Can’t Wait.”

BCW is Georgia's early intervention program for infants and toddlers, birth to age 3, who have developmental delays or disabilities. Providers create individualized support programs with services tailored to individual needs, while also teaching family members how to support the child's development and participation in activities and typical family routines.

Valdosta State University has worked with BCW for 15 years to provide technical assistance to service providers and state officials. Lorna's confidence in the program and its results guided her decision to join the VSU team, which develops informational materials, reviews state policy documents, and monitors compliance with federal guidelines and recommended practice.

In April 2008, the VSU team was awarded a grant from the Georgia Department of Human Resources to continue the Babies Can’t Wait program for the 2008-09 year. The grant was recently renewed for the 2009-10 year as well.

“As part of this year's contract, we will continue to collect follow-up data about families who have graduated from the BCW program,” said Dr. James Ernest, '81, associate professor of early childhood and special education at VSU. “We will continue to be responsive to the state in terms of providing technical assistance to any one of the 18 health districts in Georgia.”

Continuance of this grant will allow the VSU-based team - which includes acting Graduate Dean Dr. Karla Hull, and Dr. Corine Myers-Jennings, department head of the communications sciences and disorders program - to create an online portal designed to simplify the statewide distribution of documents and information to families and services providers. The site will feature flash-based information modules for users and collect data as families transition out of the program.

The renewed grant will allow BCW to continue implementing evidence-based practices in the delivery of early intervention services to families in most of Georgia's 18 health districts. VSU's team, along with other BCW supporters across the state, has helped the agency change the lives of countless children and their families.

"Babies can't wait empowered us as a family," Lorna said. "With the guidance of our early intervention team, we set goals for JP, and provided him with the support he needed to successfully achieve developmental milestones."

Visit http://GeorgiaFamiliesMatter.org/ for more information about Babies Can't Wait.