In December of 2011, Patricia became a foster mom to a baby girl named Kylie. “When she came to me, she was four months old,” says Patricia, “so light she was like paper.” Now two years old, Kylie is at a healthy body weight but has several significant developmental delays. Fortunately, she now receives free care from an experienced family child care provider named Debra Kelly through the Early Head Start (EHS) program All Our Kin runs in collaboration with the United Way of Greater New Haven. Kylie’s progress is an example of the profound effect that high-quality child care and access to professional health services can have on a vulnerable child.
Kylie and Patricia
Kylie is an adorable child, with a broad smile and bright eyes. “Everybody that meets Kylie, they fall in love with her because she’s so cute,” Patricia says. But Kylie faces many challenges in life. She has cerebral palsy and requires a feeding tube, due to her inability to gain weight without one. Patricia says that Kylie’s condition hasn’t stopped her from developing the deepest of bonds with her daughter. “She’s taught me a different kind of love,” she says. “I didn’t know I could love this way.”
Shortly after formally adopting Kylie, Patricia began working with the State’s Birth to Three system, which provides services to children with developmental disabilities and delays. In 2013, 4,680 Connecticut children were referred to Birth to Three and found eligible to receive services. Jeannie Barletta, an Early Intervention Associate with the Birth to Three agency Reachout, Inc., advised Patricia to get in touch with All Our Kin’s Family Advocate. “Give Carlos a call,” she told Patricia. “He’s great, and they’ll find day care.” Patricia contacted Carlos, and he began the process of interviewing her for the EHS program. “He wanted to know about Kylie, all her [challenges],” Patricia recalls. In October of last year, Carlos found a space for Kylie with a provider in Patricia’s neighborhood, just fifteen minutes away.
That provider was Debra Kelly, a family child care provider who previously spent 16 years as the lead teacher at a New Haven Head Start program. In 2007, Debra decided to make the switch to family child care. “I felt I had more to offer outside of a system,” she says. In 2008, she began attending All Our Kin’s workshops and trainings, and in August of 2013 she began providing care through our EHS program. Debra is a dedicated caregiver and educator. “I love working with children,” she says. “I like to see them grow. I like to be able to see where they are and take them to the next level.”
When Debra was introduced to All Our Kin, she says, “it was the first time I had ever heard of a resource for family day care providers that offered professional, formal training. And for free, at that! It is a great resource for family day care providers.” Debra is excited that All Our Kin exists to support and elevate the work of caregivers like herself. “I think AOK is a wonderful program, I really do. I wish they could expand all over,” she says. “[All Our Kin] really showcases the importance and the value of family day care.” Debra has taken part in All Our Kin’s business series and our New Teacher Mentor Program, and she receives one-on-one support from our experienced educational consultants.
As a provider, Debra says she’s constantly aware of her responsibility to prepare children for success. “We get [children] in their formative years,” she says. “They absorb the most from zero to five. How they’re cared for and their perspective on the world is shaped through family and those who take care of them.” She says she comes to her work from the perspective of a family member preparing their own child for the world. “We teach from that perspective, as if they were our child,” she says.
A partnership develops
Patricia saw this approach firsthand when she arrived at Debra’s program. She says she was impressed that Debra asked so many questions about Kylie’s condition and that she had such a clear plan for each child in her care. Debra had also cared for a child with a feeding tube before, which helped set Patricia at ease. For Debra’s part, she says she had no hesitation about welcoming Kylie into her program. Her first thought when she saw Kylie was that she was the “cutest little being.” “I don’t shy away from special needs children,” Debra says. “I see them as little children that have a different perspective.”
When Kylie first arrived at Debra’s, Debra says “she couldn’t sit, she barely moved, you could barely get eye contact from her, she didn’t really respond to her name or voices.” Debra and her assistant immediately set to work settling Kylie into the program. In addition to the care that Debra and her assistant provide to every child in their program, they continue to make extra efforts to bring Kylie along. “We talk to her a lot,” Debra says. “We get on her eye level, we put her among the children—even when she couldn’t sit up, we would brace her up or let her lean on one of us so she was a part of our group.”
Debra works closely with Patricia and with a team from Birth to Three to achieve Kylie’s goals. “Since her mom is her first teacher and knows her best,” Debra says, “I ask her: ‘Help me know more about Kylie.’” Debra also partners with Kylie’s Birth to Three team—Jeannie Barletta, Michelle Brennan, and Stephanie Kelsey-Reynolds. They offer Kylie ongoing physical, occupational, and educational therapy. “From Day One,” Debra says, “I would watch what [the Birth to Three team] did. Whatever they were doing, whatever their goals were, we would follow through. She was getting some of her therapy even when they weren’t here.” Debra sees herself as part of a three-way partnership to take care of Kylie. “It’s a collaboration of her mom, Birth to Three, and myself,” she says.
As a result of the ongoing cooperation of the adults in her life, Kylie has been making great progress over the past six months. She can now sit without support, and she will hold and play with toys. She will even reach for objects, despite a sensory disorder that makes her shy away from many kinds of physical stimulation.
Kylie’s responsiveness has also improved dramatically. “We would always say ‘Good morning, Kylie’ and look her in the face,” recalls Debra. “One morning she looked back! And she’s been doing it ever since.” When Debra recently went to feed her, Kylie clenched her teeth and shook her head. “I was so excited,” says Debra, “because she’s expressing how she’s feeling.” She sees this as a major step forward in terms of Kylie conveying her personality, which Debra describes as “sweet but determined.” Debra says these are “tremendous changes.”
Whenever Kylie reaches a new milestone, Debra records it and shares the news with Patricia so that the two can delight together in Kylie’s accomplishments. “We can’t wait to see what’s next,” Debra says.
Goals for the future
Patricia’s hope for her daughter is that she will progress to the point that she can walk. “She’s a striver, she’s a fighter,” says Patricia. “Now she’ll stand, where before she’d just curl her legs up underneath her. I think she’s going to walk in her own time.” Patricia adds, “Debra believes like me: she’s going to walk.” Debra has at least one other goal for Kylie: for her to be able to speak. With assistance from Birth to Three, Kylie is now working with a touch-sensitive plate linked to a fan. “Our goal is for her to get the connection that her hand is controlling the fan,” says Debra, “because the ultimate goal is for her to be able to use equipment that will speak for her.”
The All Our Kin EHS team is very glad that Kylie has found such a loving and supportive environment in Debra’s program. Sara Feudo, All Our Kin’s Nurse Consultant, says that it’s “a wonderful placement” for her. All Our Kin’s Senior Educational Consultant, Paula Simpson, says that Debra has “formed a strong relationship with Kylie that supports all the work they do together to help Kylie grow and learn.”
Most importantly, Kylie’s mom Patricia is also thrilled with the placement. “I just love how she cares for each child. She develops a special bond,” she says of Debra. “I had asked God: Lord, let me find a daycare that will love and care for my baby. God heard our prayers.”
As for Debra, she continues to use every day as an opportunity to understand and help Kylie. “You can see in her eyes when she looks at you that she understands,” she says. “She has that receptive skill for our language, but she can’t express it. My words to her are always: ‘Kylie, I’m going to get to know who you are. You’re going to teach me.’ I say that to her every day.”