Sept. 3, 2019 –  My tour of developmental services  continued with the KidSTART program, which serves children with complex developmental, mental health, medical and family needs. I learned that the START in KidSTART is actually a clever acronym for what the program does. It provides Screenings to identify potential concerns, Triage to determine level and complexity of need, Assessment by a transdisciplinary team, and Referral and Treatment to ensure that children and caregivers receive the services they need. My visit would take me take me through all five phases of this model.

A warm welcome from the KidSTART crew

The first thing I encountered on my visit was a table full of sweet snacks, including homemade cupcakes, Rice Krispy treats, and, if I was feeling like a healthy snack, some grapes (I went for the cupcake.) The entire suite was themed after the Dr. Seuss story “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Later, I was presented with a Dr. Seuss-style book about KidSTART, which KidSTART Care Coordinator Leilani Parlin made just for me. So creative!

I started the tour by learning about the “S” and “T” in KidSTART: screening and triage for children from 6 months to 6 years old. This is where a child’s circumstances are evaluated to see if they would be a good fit for this program or should be referred to other community providers. The children who qualify for KidSTART have multiple complex needs, such as developmental challenges along with a difficult home life and no clear treatment plan. Adverse childhood experience scores for both the child and their caregivers are also considered during this process. The ACE score is calculated based on responses to 10 questions that assess abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of adversity and trauma during childhood. The more difficult your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be. Close to 37 percent of KidSTART children have more than four ACEs, compared to about 10 percent in the general population. Once children qualify for KidSTART, they are assigned a care coordinator.

Meeting with the triage team

My next stop was with the assessment and referrals team. On this transdisciplinary team, all of the providers involved in a child’s care come together to form what is known as the integrated clinical team. The ICT collaborates to share clinical observations and perceptions to develop a care plan, and then meets with the child’s caregivers to review the plan, answer questions, and make sure they feel the approach is realistic and can be accomplished.

Learning about innovative treatment strategies

I then moved on to the treatment phase, where children are offered an array of development and mental health treatments including speech, behavioral, occupational and physical therapy. Some of these children exhibit difficult behaviors, but I was impressed with all of the creative strategies and tools this team has on hand. In addition to individual sessions, KidSTART offers group classes that help build skills around executive function, speech and motion, sensory regulation, and expressive and receptive language. Caregivers are also offered services including support groups, educational resources and assistance in accessing services to address their own wellness and mental health needs.

Finally, I met with the outcomes team, who works to “change the trajectory for children in San Diego.” I learned from this group that KidSTART provided services to 289 children last year, and there are plenty of grateful families out there. One parent commented, “KidSTART has been a lifesaver and support for our family.” Another said, “Best service all the time. Thank you for your support and care every step.”

Checking out my Dr. Seuss-themed book about KidSTART

It is inspiring how this team takes such excellent care of the kids in our community who are facing the greatest challenges, and most likely to fall through the cracks. With support and compassion, they focus on treating the whole child by integrating multiple services, and that ultimately leads to the best outcomes. With KidSTART’s numerous early interventions, the places these kids will go are limitless.