Tender Loving Care
For parents of children with special medical needs, returning to the workforce is often a necessity, not an option. They need the income and health benefits a job provides. But finding quality childcare can be nearly impossible. The World of Care program at Kennedy Krieger affiliate PACT: Helping Children with Special Needs is one of just two centers in the state providing daycare for medically fragile children. Parents have the security of knowing that their children will be cared for in a safe environment, and children who might otherwise be isolated at home have the chance to learn, play and grow with others.
World of Care offers specialized childcare to children from six weeks to 5 years old with hemophilia, cerebral palsy, congenital heart disease, severe food allergies, prematurity and many other conditions. There are six nurses on staff, along with a special educator, childcare staff, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and a social worker. There are seven classrooms, none with more than 12 students. "Tyler gets all the therapies he needs at World of Care," says Kristina Crook. Crook's 4 1/2 year-old son Tyler Bentley has cerebral palsy and has been coming to World of Care since he was two. "Because he has difficulty with mobility, taking him from one place to another for all of his services would be really difficult."
One of World of Care's primary missions is helping the families it serves maintain as normal a schedule as possible. "When someone has a child with special needs, they often have nurses and therapists coming in and out of their home at all hours," says Mary Coster-Ekren, director of World of Care. "Because our children receive all of their therapies here, when parents take their child home, they have the rest of that evening for family time." In recognition of the unique service World of Care provides, the Women Legislators of Maryland recently gave the center its 2003 Child Care Challenge Award. This annual award recognizes organizations that have developed innovative solutions for child care, with a special emphasis on those that provide care for underserved populations.
World of Care provides child care for up to 63 children. Each child is assigned to one of World of Care's nurses, which allows the nurses to develop a close relationship with each child and to recognize any changes in the children's conditions. All children receive a nursing assessment when they arrive at World of Care each morning.
Many of the three and four year olds work with a special educator in a pre-school program focused on the foundations of literacy. "We like to get the children to the point where they leave knowing their shapes, colors and a few numbers," says Ginny Salzburg, a special educator. "That comes easier to some than others, but the ones with higher skill levels serve as role models to those who have to work harder."
Regina Labofish agrees that her son has benefited from interacting with other children. "It absolutely helps Jacob to be around other kids his own age," says Labofish, whose 21-month-old son was born 11 weeks premature and began coming to World of Care in November 2002. At the time, he suffered from severe reflux and received oxygen support for his underdeveloped lungs. He was hospitalized again after a few weeks but returned in April 2003, where he's been thriving ever since. "He really learns from the kids that are just a little further ahead than he is. A year ago, he was weak and small and could barely hold a toy. Today, he's running and climbing a totally different