I’m Tami Krüger, the Provider Relations Specialist for the Easterseals North Beaches Early Steps (NBES) program, covering Volusia, Flagler, Lake, Putnam and Sumter counties. The NBES program provides early intervention services to children aged 0-3 with special needs and/or developmental disabilities. My primary responsibilities as Provider Relations Specialist are provider recruitment of pediatric Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists/Assistants, Physical Therapists/Assistants and Infant Toddler Development Specialists (ITDS); provider credentialing with NBES; provider quality assurance (QA) via provider record audits and reviews; and provider liaison with the Managed Medical Assistance (MMA) Medicaid program and insurance networks.
Easterseals became an important part of my life when I enrolled my daughter, Chloe, in daycare at Easterseals’ Child Development Center in February 2016. She was a year and a half old and began in the infant room. I had noticed that Chloe was not trying to talk as much as other children I noticed at drop-off or pick-up times. Chloe’s second birthday was approaching in a few months and I brought up my concerns with her pediatrician. He said to wait until she turned two, as babies have a vocabulary explosion around two years old and he didn’t feel she needed my request for a speech evaluation referral.
One day while picking up my daughter from daycare, I was briefly talking with the receptionist about my concerns of Chloe talking and she told me to do a “parent referral” to Early Steps. I did not know what Early Steps was at the time and would discuss the option with my husband. Not long after, I found out about a job opportunity with Early Steps as the Provider Relations Specialist and applied for the position in June 2016. I got the job and began as the Provider Relations Specialist in August 2016. During my first few weeks, I spoke to my co-worker and Intake Specialist, Diane Brock about this “parent referral” for Chloe and how it worked. Diane explained how the evaluation and program worked. To my amazement, the parent referral was quick and easy, and by the end of the day, Chloe was scheduled for an evaluation with Early Steps in late August 2016 – she had just turned two and there was not much improvement with her speech.
Chloe was evaluated by the amazing Early Steps team, a Speech Therapist and an Occupational Therapist, with my assigned Family Services Coordinator present as well. Chloe was found eligible for the program and would begin receiving Speech Therapy once per week. There was no out-of-pocket cost to parents, either insurance paid for the sessions, or Early Steps would pay as last resort if child had no insurance. Another perk to this fabulous opportunity for Chloe – the speech therapist saw Chloe in the natural environment, meaning where Chloe normally spent her days. Her Speech Therapist was fabulous and saw her weekly at the daycare, sending me updates each week on what they did during sessions and what my husband and I should work on with her during the week at home.
Although Chloe understood what we said to her, she could not express what she wanted or needed. It was heartbreaking to watch her try to communicate with us and get frustrated and cry or shut down. Over a short time, we noticed a huge improvement with Chloe’s communication, her demeanor improved, and she was happier overall. I ended up moving Chloe to a daycare in Palm Coast, closer to home in 2017 just before Chloe turned three. Our amazing Service Coordinator set up transition for Chloe to receive Speech Therapy through the Flagler County Schools system after she turned three. The transition between the Early Steps program and the Flagler County Schools system was seamless and very easy.
Chloe just turned five, she is in the Kindergarten DREAMS accelerated program at the elementary school, is still receiving Language Therapy at school each week, and is a chatter-box! You would never know she had a speech delay a few years ago. That parent-referral was the best decision I have ever made in my life, and Chloe is living proof that Early Intervention works!
It has been three years since I began working with the Early Steps Program and over four years of Easterseals making a positive impact on our family. I have the unique ability to understand the value of Easterseals and the North Beaches Early Steps program as a parent and as an employee. I have had many discussions with NBES providers about my experience as a parent of an Early Steps child, and the benefits of open communication between the parents, therapists, and Family Service Coordinators, ensuring the child received the services they need. Over the past three years, I have learned so much about the North Beaches Early Steps program, but the most important thing I have realized is that every single person in our program genuinely cares about the children and their needs being met. I personally have seen my supervisor and the Program Director, Stephanie Ellis-Clark, bend over backwards to ensure the children and employees receive what they need. I am truly proud to be a part of this amazing program!
The Easterseals mission of “Taking on Disability Together” was experienced first-hand in my family. Beginning with the suggestion of making a “parent referral” for Chloe with Early Steps from the Easterseals’ Childcare Development Center receptionist, to the knowledgeable explanation of the program and providing the intake information, the ease of scheduling Chloe’s Early Steps eligibility clinic evaluation, the expertise of the evaluating therapists, the amazing service coordination, and the beneficial weekly therapy, my daughter found her confidence, her happiness, and most of all her voice.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone involved in Chloe’s amazing transformation and helping her find her voice!