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Holly Ridge Center becomes lead agency for birth-to-3 services in Mason County

A program called High 5 is specifically geared for children with autism. For 2- and 3-year-olds, High 5 includes a developmental play class, and parents take turns helping in the classroom. (Photo by Holly Ridge Center)The Holly Ridge Center recently became the Local Lead Agency in Mason County for providing birth-to-3 services. The nonprofit organization, based in Bremerton, has already been serving kids eligible for the program in North Mason. The lead agency award by the Washington Department of Early Learning and the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program means Holly Ridge will additionally provide administrative support and guidance for other Mason County providers of birth-to-3 services.

“We’re very pleased because they’re very good at what they do and they’re experienced,” said Elizabeth Custis, public health nurse with Mason County Health Department and member of the Mason County Interagency Coordinating Council board.

Holly Ridge Center (www.hollyridge.org) has been providing services on the Kitsap Peninsula for nearly 50 years and is also the Local Lead Agency in Kitsap. In addition to the Infant Toddler Program, which offers intervention for children with developmental delays, the center’s Adult Employment Services Program provides vocational rehabilitation, job training and placement for disabled adults.

As the lead agency, Holly Ridge is tasked with overseeing all agencies providing birth-to-3 services in Kitsap and Mason to ensure the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act is followed. The IDEA, which regulates special education for K-12 students, also includes provisions for states to identify kids under 3 and preschoolers who have developmental disabilities, so they can start receiving help early to be better prepared for school. School districts have the option of providing all the pre-K services themselves or contracting with organizations like Holly Ridge — which has been working with school districts for nearly 30 years.

The Infant Toddler Program provides evaluations, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and educational services, among other things, and most are provided in an in-home setting (including day care), according to Connie Zapp, program director. Besides the Holly Ridge facility in Bremerton, staff also work out of the Poulsbo Elementary School and Givens Community Center in Port Orchard. At the Bremerton neurodevelopment and early learning center, on-site activities include hydrotherapy, integrated developmental play groups and “mommy and me” sessions where parents of the younger kids can network with other parents and get tips from experts. Additionally, specific services are available for children diagnosed with autism as well as a feeding group for children who have ongoing feeding issues.

“Families are referred through doctors, child care providers or refer themselves. We do a standardized evaluation in all areas of development,” Zapp said.

Among the main concerns that prompt referrals are toddlers not talking or walking, but kids who have certain medical conditions, such as Down syndrome, qualify automatically.

“We have a pretty large group of medically fragile children, as well as those with delays,” Zapp said.

Each child receives a voluntary, individualized family plan, which changes as the child develops.

“The whole idea of intervention is to show parents or child care providers what they can do every day to help the child,” she said.

Nearly 50 Holly Ridge Center staff include speech therapists, family resource coordinators, occupational therapists, infant mental health specialists, a nurse, a special education teacher, a teacher certified to work with autistic kids and paraeducators, among others. Several outside specialists come in regularly, including a nutritionist from the University of Washington and a developmental pediatrician from Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. HRC also coordinates with other therapists within the community and works closely with the Navy and other stakeholders.

“The community really works together,” Zapp said.

Although the majority of children served by HRS live at or below the 200 percent federal poverty level, income is not a qualification criterion. Families only pay for the medically based services, which can be billed to insurance. Those who can’t afford their co-pays or don’t have insurance can apply for hardship waivers.

The center’s funding comes through a mix of sources, including fees from the contracting school districts, some state funding and grants, private donations and fundraisers such as an annual golf tournament. “Our funding hasn’t changed while the number of kids served has grown significantly,” Zapp said.

Currently, 315 children are enrolled at the center, which is open year-round, compared with 250 two years ago.

The growing number is reflected in Mason County too. Custis, whose office refers clients to Holly Ridge for evaluation, said the birth-to-3 segment has been very busy over the past year.

“There’s absolutely a need for it. The piece that’s so important is that we need an agency that can evaluate these children promptly so they can get their needs met quickly,” she said. “We’re lucky because Holly Ridge is very professional. They’ve already hired two part-time family resource coordinators (for Mason County) including one who speaks Spanish… They’re coming and looking at more outreach in the less-served areas so they can provide more services.”

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