Nearly three years ago, DeJionette “DJ” Norton went from parenting zero children to four children in the span of a week when she and her husband took in her four half siblings. DJ, who hopes to formally adopt the children this year, knew she needed help—especially with her youngest, Symphony. A toddler at the time, DJ says Symphony was clearly impacted by the stress and trauma of her former home. She wasn’t speaking and did not have the social skills she should have had for her age.
“Symphony had a lot of trauma, and I am not licensed to take care of someone who has a lot of trauma and who needs care in those areas,” DJ says.
DJ’s social worker helped her get in touch with Warren County Community Services’ (WCCS) Early Head Start program. From there, Symphony was enrolled in WCCS’ Baby Therapeutic Interagency Preschool (TIP) program, which is designed to serve infants and toddlers who have experienced trauma.
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in a number of family risk factors over the past five years, including families experiencing substance misuse, family violence, incarcerated parents, and children in foster or kinship care,” says Lisa Cayard, early Learning Center director for WCCS, which is funded to serves 230 Head Start children and 130 Early Head Start children in Warren County, Ohio, near Dayton.
From 2015 to 2021, the number of parents who have reported substance abuse in their family has tripled, from 14 percent to 48 percent. The number of parents who have reported family violence has also tripled, and the number of parents navigating a foster or kinship care arrangement, like DJ’s family, has more than doubled.
“Of course, these family issues impact the children’s development and behavior, so we have seen a corresponding rise in challenging behaviors in the classrooms,” Lisa says.
Three years ago, WCCS launched its TIP program for preschoolers to address the growing need to support children who’ve experienced trauma. WCCS’ TIP program is modeled after a TIP program in nearby Butler County that has been successfully serving families there for over 30 years. Last year, WCCS created Baby TIP, based on the same model, to serve infants and toddlers and their families.
For both TIP and Baby TIP, WCCS partners with Warren County Children Services. Most often, children are referred to TIP or Baby TIP by Children Services. Many of the children are in foster or kinship care, but others are in biological families, Lisa says.
For preschool-aged children, the TIP program is classroom based and offers:
- on-site mental health services for children;
- a small class size of 12 children with three teachers who have extensive training in
- case management by Children Services staff;
- monthly home visits for families, with family support services provided by a Family Advocate; and
- Medicaid-reimbursed transportation from all parts of the county.
For Baby TIP, some infants and toddlers are enrolled in full-day classrooms at three locations around the county, and some are enrolled at one of five private child care centers that also participate in the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program. Other children are served through a home-based program option.
Baby TIP therapeutic services are provided to the child’s caregivers through a partnership with Butler Behavioral Health, which has developed an innovative, neurobiology-informed therapy approach that is developmentally appropriate and specific to working with at-risk children.
Services are provided to infants and toddlers and their families in whichever program option the family prefers—home-based, center-based, or through the child care partnership. Teachers and home visitors serving infants and toddlers in Baby TIP receive extra trauma training and mental health consultation to meet the children’s needs.
DJ says Symphony flourished thanks to Baby TIP.
“She not only had care from people who understand how to work with children who’ve experienced trauma, but she was among peers, which was amazing, because it helped skyrocket her development,” DJ says. “Her speech improved, her social skills improved, she became more friendly and less aggressive.”
Child care support also gave DJ and her husband time to navigate the foster care and adoption systems and to take a break and adjust to being new parents when needed.
“It’s a lot of paperwork, and a lot of appointments, and I was able to do that because I had more time,” DJ says.
But most of all, DJ is thankful that Baby TIP supported Symphony, now 3, when she needed it the most.
“I am so thankful that Baby TIP exists,” DJ says. “This program helped my daughter to spread her wings. She was struggling to overcome all of the trauma she had suffered.
“It’s a lot to take in four kids, but with this, I was able to focus on my kids more and be there for them mentally and physically,” DJ says. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve always loved them. I’m just happy that they’re with me, they’re home, and I was the one who was able to provide them a safe haven.”