When you’re the parent of a small child, there are certain milestones in the physical and mental development you tend to look out for. But beyond the obvious one – things like walking and talking – are some more subtle markers of a child’s development.
And those milestones are not always reached when they should be. In many cases in the City of Milwaukee, no one is paying attention until it’s too late.
But a federally supported program, called Project LAUNCH, has been underway for several years in Milwaukee. It seeks to standardize the effort to track childhood development, and empower more caregivers to carry out that screening. It’s funded through a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In Milwaukee, the effort is being focused on 12 zip codes in Milwaukee where there are disparities in healthy birth outcomes and infant mortality rates. Cindy Muhar is a Family Living Educator with the Milwaukee County UW Cooperative Extension. She says children in those zip codes have lower rates of being screened for development markers.
"Only 30 percent of children with developmental delays are diagnosed before they get to kindergarten," Muhar says. "And research has show the importance of early detection and early intervention, again, to help these children reach their full potential."
In order to detect those delays, Project LAUNCH is encouraging the use of what's known as an Ages and Stages Questionnaire, or ASQ. Dr. Arianna Keil is the Program Coordinator for the Wisconsin Statewide Medical Home Initiative through Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
"One significant goal of Project Launch is to increase the number of professionals who are using the ASQ routinely and therefore having more children's development screened on a regular basis," Keil says.
But Muhar says it's also important to get parents to get involved in the screening process. While many of the families the project is targeting face many challenges - including getting time to have their child screened, Muhar says the parents take to the process right away.
"It helps them to understand childhood development even a little bit better," she says. "It helps them play with their child and understand their child's strengths, so it's really a fun tool."
Project LAUNCH is scheduled to run in Milwaukee through next year.