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MeritCare, BASC receive Early Childhood Champion award for shared-care model

Bemidji's Early Childhood Initiative has awarded its Early Childhood Champion certificate to a collaboration between MeritCare Clinic and the Bemidji Area Service Collaborative that brings improved screening and help for social-emotional concerns to families with children from birth to 5 years, according to a news release from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, which coordinates both the Early Childhood and Thrive initiatives.

The collaboration began with a vision to create a continuum of care for social and emotional health for all young children and their families in the area. Some pieces of the continuum had been in place, but significant gaps were uncovered.

Most children were being screened with the Ages and Stages Questionnaires: Social Emotional, but screening was not happening early enough, communication among screening sites was inadequate and the flow from screening to referral to community-based resources and services was not clearly delineated, according to the news release, which noted that the medical community was not closely involved with either screening or the mental health providers, and uninsured or underinsured children were left out completely.

A system needed to be built to bring the medical, mental health and educational communities together in a comprehensive effort to provide consistent and adequate screening, referrals and service to families, the news release stated.

The Early Childhood Shared Care Model accomplishes this, beginning at MeritCare, with help from PrimeWest Health insurers, the Thrive Initiative and the BASC. First, parents complete the ASQ-SE screening tool in audio format in the clinic waiting room. Scores are sent to the physician.

"I see many kids with developmental and behavioral problems who will benefit from early detection," local pediatrician Dr. John Parkin said.

Elevated scores indicate a need for a closer look. Those families meet with care coordinator Jody Wilkinson, who listens and learns more to help the family decide on the next step - home visits from Public Health, a diagnostic assessment and therapy, connecting with Head Start or Early Childhood Family Education or a referral for a special education assessment. The care coordinator follows up to be sure the family makes the necessarily connection.

Dr. Read Sulik, with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, consults with area pediatricians and child psychiatrist Dr. James Jarmuskewicz to enhance local care. Wilkinson has also developed a screening site at the Northern Dental Access Clinic and can take referrals from any source.

Beltrami Area Service Collaborative houses and employs the care coordinator. The Thrive Initiative funds services for uninsured and underinsured children and the care coordinator position until it becomes self-sustaining through billing fees.

"We have ample real-life evidence that more infants and toddlers are screened due to these partnerships, and families and professionals alike will see a clear next step when there is an elevated screening score," said Lin Backstrom of the NMF. Medical and mental health professionals will "share the care" of their young children's mental health, along with the family, in order to provide the best community-based support in a rural setting, the news release stated.

"The Shared Care Model offers area families the best possible care for their young children, bridging medical and mental health," said Becky Secore of the BASC.