A little boy and his father nervously walked along the sidewalk outside the Manhattan Center in South Tampa. The child clutched a plastic toy from the movie Moana. The dad carried a backpack filled with diapers, snacks and forms. They passed a large flag that read “Developmental Screening” and walked through the front door.
They had a 10:45am appointment for a free screening offered by the Early Childhood Council (ECC), with support from Hillsborough County Public Schools, the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and the Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources System (FDLRS).
It’s a lot of groups—coming together for a VERY good reason. Once a month, they join forces to offer FREE services to families with children under five in Hillsborough County. There is height and weight assessment, vision, hearing, language, behavior and overall development.
The little boy’s name is Ezra and he just turned 3 years old. His dad said they are at the screening because he and his wife are worried Ezra isn’t hitting his milestones.
First up—getting Ezra’s height and weight.
An employee with the Early Childhood Council led father and son to a back room with a scale and tape measure. Ezra scored in a high percentile for weight, so a specialist talked to them about healthy eating habits and stressed the importance of drinking more water and less juice--and set them up for an appointment to receive healthy food benefits.
From there, they were led to a room where Ezra’s hearing would be tested. Screeners from St. Joseph’s Hospital and USF audiology talked with Ezra’s dad about any concerns he may have. Then they looked in Ezra’s ears and gave him a hearing test.
Patience was key here. Like any 3-year-old boy, Ezra wasn’t too cooperative when it came to responding to the beeps. But the screeners kept at it, and with a little creativity, they got Ezra to work with them!
The screeners wrote the results in a big blue folder that followed Ezra through all the stations. The results would be analyzed and discussed at the end of the appointment.
Ezra then went to the vision station. A non-profit group called Preserve Vision Florida tested Ezra’s eyes. They had Ezra sit on his dad’s lap, and then used a really high-tech camera to take a picture of his eyes. From that picture, they could tell whether he had any vision issues.
After the vision screening, there was a little bit of waiting. About 40 families showed up for screening on this day. Some had appointments, some did not, but no one was turned away. Ezra stayed entertained by playing with books and toy trucks until it was his turn in the Overall Development area.
In this room, employees with the Early Childhood Council and FDLRS/Child Find waited at tables with a bunch of little, colorful toys. A toy dog and a plastic ring were set in front of Ezra. The screener asked Ezra questions about the toys as another screener brought a rather lengthy questionnaire to Ezra’s father and started asking him about Ezra’s everyday life and abilities.
While Ezra stacked blocks, colored a picture and walked in a straight line, his father answered questions about Ezra’s vocabulary and socialization skills.
It was a very detailed screening. The whole process took a solid two and a half hours, which is what families are told to expect when they make their appointment.
What comes next is different for every family.
An employee with the Early Childhood Council will meet with them, privately, and go over the results and recommendations.
Sometimes, it’s a simple wait-and-see game. Nothing to warrant further testing.
Other times, a more thorough evaluation is recommended—or perhaps it’s suggested that the child see a specialist.
But the Early Learning Coalition and Hillsborough County Public Schools will stand by these families every step of the way.
The family will have a team of people helping them and following up with them to make sure they are utilizing the vast resources that our school district and many community partners have to offer.
It’s a sigh of relief for many families—knowing they have a partner in their child’s education from the very earliest age and from the very earliest sign of uncertainty.
These FREE screenings are offered every month in English and Spanish for children under five who are not yet in the school system. For a list of locations and to set up an appointment call 813-837-7723 or visit ecctampabay.org or fdlrs.mysdhc.org/ChildFind.