SCIOTO — Scioto County Developmental Disabilities has a new Director of Early Childhood Services.
Erica Wallace, who took over the position on July 1, has worked as a Developmental Specialist and for SCDD for several years has moved into the job, which is based at the Carousel Center. Wallace worked with retired director Tammy Nelson for nearly a year to transition into the position.
Early Childhood Services encompasses Early Intervention for babies and children living in Scioto County who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities.
“I want to thank the staff and give them my full appreciation for being so flexible and being willing to step outside their comfort zone and serve families during this time,” Wallace said. “I’m excited to see what the next years bring for all of us together.”
Nobody could have foreseen such a change in personnel and what services might look like under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic this time last year. While technology has long been an important part of the offerings to families, it has become crucial as the delivery of services to our community’s youngest children is ever-changing.
“What we used to do when I came into the program was we used to take a bag into the homes and we’d call it our bag of tricks,” Wallace said. The model has evolved to a coaching method for families using items already in the home, which means children can more consistently learn skills and hit developmental markers with the help of their families.
“Over the last probably four or five years, we’ve shifted our whole model to a coaching model to empower families to be the best play partner they can be,” Wallace said. “We train them with the coaching model. We have really seen that blossom over the years.”
One trend Wallace and the rest of the Early Childhood Services staff see is the uptick in diagnoses of autism and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Both recently became qualifying diagnoses, meaning
children living with these developmental disabilities automatically are qualified for services through SCDD and Early Childhood Services.
“Those two diagnoses are at the top,” Wallace said. Formerly, the top diagnoses for children were Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. “We still have those, but autism and NAS are the majority of the diagnoses we see now in our area.”
The staff at Carousel are constantly undergoing professional education, and Wallace looks to improve the use of technology as a tool Developmental Specialists to conduct virtual visits with families and children. Virtual visits were also available to medically fragile families during flu season, but the usage expanded widely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The option is available to all families served by Early Childhood Services, and has been a huge success in being able to continue those important face-to-face coaching sessions between Developmental Specialists and families.
Wallace worked closely with former director Tammy Nelson for nearly a year in order to make the transition a smooth one. No one could have predicted it would have happened during a global pandemic, though.
“Nobody planned, and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to have the last three months of employment working from home,” Nelson said. “We’ve worked very closely together over the last year. She’s as ready as she can be, I think she’ll do fine.”
The thing about Early Childhood Services, and Early Intervention in particular, is how closely the staff work with families.
“It takes a special person to be a Developmental Specialist. Empathy, judgement aside, and passion to drive the force of making sure that you’re doing everything possible in those early years. We all know that’s really when brain development is optimal. We miss that chance and that’s when the child pays for it,” Nelson said. “Families come first and we really work hard to make families as happy as they can be with the challenges they’ve been presented.
While Nelson is looking forward to gardening, reading, and spending time with her family, Wallace has hit the ground running with virtual services and interagency partnerships.
“I want to thank the staff and give them my full appreciation for being so flexible and being willing to step outside their comfort zone and serve families during this time,” Wallace said.
Scioto DD Superintendent Matt Purcell said he is appreciative of the contributions of both Wallace and Nelson. Both have worked toward improving services to local families and children while staying atop an evolving system of approaches.
“Tammy has been a proven leader with many successes in our Early Childhood Services program. As mandates and methods evolved, so did the approaches at the Carousel Center,” Purcell said. “Tammy and the Early Intervention team made continuing education a priority and that has made all the difference in the lives of Scioto County children with developmental disabilities and their families.
“I know the dedication and commitment to local children and families will continue under Erica’s leadership.”