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Offering a helping hand to children and their parents

Involvement by parents will be a key element in helping to make a new children's social and emotional screening process as effective as possible.

The screening, which was introduced this summer on a pilot basis in ACMC's pediatrics department in Willmar, is being offered to all children who come in for their 18-month wellness visit.

The project was launched as part of a two-year grant to the PACT 4 collaborative to help build the regional capacity for addressing ch-ildren's mental health.

The screening is one component of the grant; providing training for child care providers is another.

Families who participate in the 18-month social and emotional screening for their child will be given a five-page questionnaire to fill out ahead of time.

The results then will be scored and discussed with parents during their appointment with the pediatrician.

It's a systematic way of ensuring parents have a chance to ask about their child's social and emotional development and identify concerns, said Dr. Joe Vogel, a pediatrician at ACMC and lead physician for the pilot project.

"In a busy clinic these issues can get missed," he said.

Some of the pediatricians have begun offering longer appointments for 18-month well-child visits, allowing more time for the doctor and parents to discuss the screening results.

For Spanish-speaking parents, the screening tool, known as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire -- Social and Emotional, is available in their own language.

In a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the questionnaire also will be available online in an audio format for Somali language speakers.

Chery Johnson, assistant nursing director at Kandiyohi County Public Health, said the Somali-language version should be especially helpful for Somali families.

"It has been a challenge when we've tried to use the English tool with an interpreter. We're not really sure we're getting accurate results," she said.

Data collection will help PACT 4, ACMC and other partners in the project track basic statistics and monitor how well the screening process is working. The information also will add a rural perspective to Minnesota data on emotional and social health among the youngest children.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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