Steamboat Pilot & Today


In-Person Services for Young Children Rebounding as COVID Wanes

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Many local families are happy that in-person support services for young children that were moved to virtual due to COVID-19 are rebounding in Routt County as the pandemic wanes.

“Families need connection, and they want the social interactions for the parents, the caregivers and children,” said Colleen Miller, executive director at the nonprofit Family Development Center in Steamboat Springs. “We were able to switch to virtual, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with a parent and a child.”

Local organizations are reintroducing or offering new services for children ranging from the in-person South Routt Play and Learn to a new Handwriting Superheroes group through UCHealth SportsMed Clinic at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Miller believes some local families may not realize how many free or low-cost services for young children are available in Routt County.

“We’ve had more of a need for families to have connections and to build relationships with other parents and other caregivers because families have been isolated for the last two years,” Miller said.

Family Development Center classes are still socially distanced with masks optional and are using increased air purification or conducted outdoors if possible, since COVID-19 vaccinations are not available for children age 4 and younger.

“Currently our services are underutilized as we move back to in-person services after the challenging two and half years. We continue to offer services through Zoom for families who are more comfortable with that option,” said Sharon Butler, program manager and parent educator with the center’s Child Care and Newborn Networks.

Back in person since February, South Routt Play and Learn is a free group that promotes child development and meets twice weekly at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the South Routt Community Center. The group provides activity sessions for children ages birth to 36 months and their parents or caregivers. This week’s topic, for example, is everyday tools for learning to read.

Another free offering back in-person is Baby Group Connections at 11 a.m. Wednesdays in Steamboat. This week’s topic is games for babies that support development, and the program for April 20 focuses on babies and screen time to promote a healthy start with technology.

As more young children are exposed to technology and increased screen time, experts say fine motor skills such as handwriting are suffering, said Mary Beth Strotbeck, manager of UCHealth SportsMed Clinics including the specialized Pediatric Therapy Clinic that opened in 2002. The clinics provide physical, speech and occupational therapy.

The Pediatric Therapy Clinic in Steamboat will start a new small group called Handwriting Superheroes in June led by Heather Anderson, a pediatric occupational therapist who started at SportsMed in late 2021.

Strotbeck and Anderson said an increasing number of children have a weakness in the area of fine motor control for wrist and hands. They suggest young children spend less time on electronic devices and more time on fine motor skill work such as putting together puzzles, coloring in the lines, practicing writing letters, building with blocks or using scissors to cut out objects.

Handwriting Superheroes is designed to assist children ages 4 to 6 to teach capital and lowercase letters using Handwriting Without Tears with the guidance of an occupational therapist. The four-week class is $140. (Registration is available by calling 970-879-8826.)

The pediatric therapist said some of the top developmental delays in young patients she sees include emotional regulation challenges as children try to figure out what to do when they become frustrated or angry, fine motor skill deficits, genetic disorders, infant torticollis or neck turning issues, and feeding therapy for infants, which can help prevent eating issues later in childhood.

In the past, families traveled to Denver for feeding therapy, Anderson said, such as for difficulties with babies adapting from a liquid to soft food diet or other food aversion issues.

Among other local services for young children, Parents as Teachers is a program of the Family Development Center that provides individualized home visits with child development and parenting information for families. The free services are available to Routt County families who are expecting a child or have a child less than 36 months of age. Parents as Teachers also includes group social connections, health and developmental screenings, a resource network for families, and talks by community experts.

The center also offers a “Warmline” staffed by experienced and trained parent educators. Callers to 970-879-0977 can ask for help with parenting questions or information about community resources.

Northwest Colorado Health also recently brought back offerings for young children that went virtual during the pandemic. The Nurse-Family Partnership is a free program that provides regular home visits from specially trained nurses during pregnancy and through a child’s second birthday.

SafeCare is a free support program for parents and caregivers with children ages 5 and younger who need extra support to keep their families safe and healthy. Providers help parents build on their existing skills in parent-child interactions, home safety and child health.

Read the article by Suzie Romig originally published for the Steamboat Pilot & Today here:


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