When families get the timely support they need through B.C.’s Early Childhood Development supports, the impact is life-changing for the child receiving services. Just ask West Kelowna mother Shona Galloway.
The interventions and therapies that two-and-a-half-year-old Lexie Galloway started receiving when she was only three months old have supported her in becoming the bright, verbal and active toddler she is now, says Shona. “Honestly, I feel so lucky. I’ve gotten so much help with her.”
Lexie was born profoundly deaf in her left ear. Early screening is integral for a condition like that, says Shona, because it can be difficult to diagnosis later.
“Lexie struggles in localizing sound, and in loud places like pools,” says Shona. “The screening when she was born picked up probable hearing loss, and that was confirmed when she was seven weeks old. She was put into the Infant Development early hearing program quite quickly, around three months.”
As services began for Lexie, her family got some support as well. Shona was referred to Guide By Your Side, a peer support service under the B.C. Early Hearing Program that pairs up parents whose children have just been diagnosed with a hearing disorder with more experienced parents who can share their own knowledge of the process.
“The person I was paired with had a very different situation than we did, but talking to her was so reassuring,” recalls Shona. “It kind of normalized that really stressful time, when we were worried about everything and trying to understand how this had happened. And she gave me tips for supporting our daughter that would be helpful whether she had hearing loss or not.”
The Infant Development team initially came to the family’s home to help Lexie. Now, she goes to Starbright Child Development Centre once a month, and gets weekly visits from a support worker at her daycare, who works both with Lexie and daycare staff.
“Lexie’s doing great,” says Shona. “She now has a hearing aid in her left ear, and that has been incredible, the difference it makes. I went through French Immersion myself and always wanted that for her, and she just seems that she’s going to be really ready for that.”
Support from the province’s B.C. Early Hearing Program “has been amazing” as well for the family, adds Shona.
“The woman we connect with at the program encouraged us into speech work, so right away she got us on that with flash cards and tips for sounding out different noises,” she says. “While it may have been that Lexie was always going to be an early talker, she definitely has ended up being really early!”
The Galloway family’s experience demonstrates Early Childhood Development and intervention services at their best: Delivered at the earliest opportunity in a child’s life; carefully focused on the needs of that child; and available for as long as it takes each child to achieve his or her full potential.
But with thousands of children on wait lists around B.C., the Galloways’ experience isn’t the norm. Funding levels for many kinds of therapies haven’t changed in seven years, even while the provincial population has grown by 300,000 people in that same time. Providers are under growing pressure to stretch a limited amount of resources across an increasing number of children.
And even though there is full agreement from everyone involved in providing Early Childhood Development services that age birth to five is a critical and wondrous time for addressing a child’s developmental delays, some B.C. families are waiting so long for services that their children are at risk of aging out of supports without ever receiving any.
B.C.’s child development and intervention programs are essential supports for families, says Shona. The widespread use of early screening for hearing deficits resulted in a quick diagnosis, and the rapid follow-up with support services are giving Lexie her best chance to strengthen speech and language skills before she reaches school age.
“We’ve only had good advice and support right from the start,” she adds. “When you’re a new parent and have no idea what’s ‘normal’ for your child, it’s so great to get that kind of support.”