Communication: Success in Larimer County
In recognition of The Colorado Trust's 25th anniversary, we are featuring stories throughout the year noting the accomplishments of a few of the many remarkable people, organizations and communities we have had the privilege of working with over the years on our shared goal of improving the health and well-being of Coloradans.
The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County Learns that communication is crucial to effective collaboration and in meeting the social and emotional needs of children.
Crying, screaming, kicking, fighting or defiance are often the only ways a baby or toddler has to signal that something is wrong or that a social, emotional or physical need is unmet. Such behavior can be trying for parents, caregivers or classroom teachers and have a negative impact on everyone involved.
"It could be developmentally appropriate," said Lisa Sadar, Quality Support Coordinator for the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County (ECCLC). "But when adults don't know what the child is trying to tell them or how to respond, the behavior may continue and get worse. We need to figure out what that child is communicating in order to find a way to encourage a more socially appropriate behavior."
ECCLC's staff was determined to provide more support to families, child care professionals and other service providers trying to cope with challenging behavior among children ranging in age from infancy to 5 years old. The Colorado Trust is providing support to ECCLC and 25 other early childhood councils as part of its five-year, $5 million strategy to improve health outcomes for Colorado children by better integrating health and health care into the state's early childhood development system.
As a result, ECCLC has engaged and united its diverse community of parents and service providers – including child care professionals, educators, social workers, and developmental and mental health specialists –- to pursue a common goal: change the culture and systems to address the mounting social and emotional needs of the region's children.
To this end, ECCLC is piloting the Pyramid Model for Promoting the Social and Emotional Development of Infants and Young Children. It is founded on promising, evidence-based practices developed by two national, academic centers that include University of Colorado Denver faculty. UC Denver is credentialing trainers and coaches through its own statewide initiative, Pyramid Plus: The Colorado Center for Social and Emotional Competence and Inclusion.
The model describes three tiers of need: universal promotion for all children; secondary preventions for children at risk of social emotional delays; and tertiary interventions for children with persistent challenges.
"For us, it was a big ‘ah-ha' moment," remembered Jennifer Van Cleave, Fort Collins Site Director at Teaching Tree Early Childhood Learning Center, of the center's first exposure to the Pyramid Model. "It was clear that it would be so much easier to deal with some of those children at the top of the Pyramid if we had some of these practices in place from the get-go."
A nonprofit founded in 1970, Teaching Tree provides affordable child care and preschool opportunities to low- and moderate-income families in Fort Collins and Loveland – some with a lot of stress in their home lives, or who are homeless. According to Van Cleave, the Pyramid Model provides a framework for those "foundations of good communications" to teach social and emotional concepts in the classroom, including safety rules, problem solving and how to deal with feelings.
With the Pyramid Model, she sees the potential to enhance the quality of their child care, reduce staff turnover and create a more rewarding environment for staff and where children can thrive. "Because that's what we're here to do. We want our teachers to stay and be happy and feel good about what they are doing," Van Cleave said.
Van Cleave said Pyramid Model concepts and practices are constantly reinforced through ongoing coaching, monthly trainings and biweekly leadership team meetings where teachers and staff regularly assess their progress against established standards. Additionally, to stay connected, Pyramid Model leaders and participants can take advantage of monthly phone calls and an interactive "Pyramid Connections" website.
"Communications is the foundation for our partnership with ECCLC and the basis for what we're teaching our staff to do," says Van Cleave. "We're communicating every day: Building relationships with the children, the parents, our co-workers and our leadership team. As a result, we establish a stronger rapport and that is the basis for everything."