Partnership Rises to Address Disruptive Learning

Walk into a classroom today and you will see that teachers do much more than teach. Often, a teacher is a social worker and first-responder. A seven-year old should never be literally ripping their hair out or throwing chairs in class due to stress at home. However, it’s happening right here in our community, and schools can’t keep up.

Over the last four years, the intensity of developmental and behavioral disorders in children younger than six years old has been on the rise across the country. If untreated, early mental health problems persist and have long-lasting effects, including measurable abnormalities in brain functioning. The effect on students is taking a toll on educators, adversely affecting retention and recruitment as they switch to less-demanding professions.

Through a $300,000 grant from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Florida Center for Early Childhood recently expanded its Starfish Academy, an inclusion model pre-school serving infants and young children. Approximately 60 percent of the students have a developmental and/or behavioral disorders, requiring intensive services and adult supervision. Funds will provide for two licensed mental health clinicians and other resources to increase the Academy’s services.

“Our Starfish Academy is the only preschool in Sarasota that has the early childhood mental health expertise to meet the needs of these very challenged children.  In addition, we work as a multidisciplinary team of experts, including our Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and classroom teachers,” says Kathryn Shea, President and CEO of The Florida Center. “Children can carry early traumatic experiences throughout their whole education. With these additional resources, we are confident these children will be successful in school and life.”

The cause of the rise of behavioral disorders in children locally is unknown, but data points to prenatal substance exposure and early childhood trauma. Half of children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Through the Starfish Academy, children can be educated in the least restrictive setting with other developing peers, increasing the chances for improved social/emotional and academic development.

Part of the Barancik Foundation’s First 1,000 Days initiative, which increases access to care for mothers and babies, the program will also strengthen families, providing services they need to adequately care for their child.

“The earlier the investment, the greater the return,” says Teri A Hansen President | CEO of the Barancik Foundation. “By addressing the behavioral needs of children before they enter the school system, we can change the trajectory of their lives and also ease the drain on teachers.”

For nearly 40 years, The Florida Center for Early Childhood has been the leading provider of prevention/early intervention services in our community. Its programs focus on infant/young children through eight years of age who are at risk for academic, social, or economic failure.  Annually, over 2,500 children and families receive services.

Parents/family members gain education, training, and guidance necessary to nurture their child’s development, while advancing their own growth and opportunities for further education and economic self-sufficiency. The agency continues to grow its services to meet the needs of the community, while remaining true to the core mission of early childhood.