When Northwest Center Kids launched the IMPACT™ program in 2018, they knew the need for inclusive early learning was great. It turns out, the response to the program was even greater.
Instead of opening another brick-and-mortar Early Learning center that might only be able to serve 80 children at a time, the Kids team wanted a way to reach the thousands of children across the state who were shut out of early learning—an estimated 22,000 children in King County alone. They designed IMPACT (short for “Inclusion Mentorship Program for increasing Access in Childcare Team”) to provide training so that other early learning centers can welcome children with disabilities or who may need extra support throughout the day for a health care need or a physical, developmental, behavioral, or social-emotional concern.
The team set a goal to reach 6,000 children by the end of 2020. They reached that goal before IMPACT was even a year old. As of summer 2020, IMPACT has reached a whopping 17,000 children in King County, with many more school and facility trainings to come.
Overwhelmingly Positive Responses
“This amazingly designed program is what we childcare providers have been hoping for for years,” says one director who received IMPACT consultations and training, citing the support that both teachers and the school director received. “The quality of the work was the professional push we needed for a reluctant family to hear our suggestions. This was the best class our experienced staff EVER took. They are still taking about what they learned.”
Those thoughts have been echoed in overwhelmingly positive responses from organizations who received IMPACT training:
Those results are even more impressive when you consider that the IMPACT team is a small but mighty multidisciplinary team of just seven people, and when you see just how many people they’ve reached from September 2018 through June 2020:
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how the IMPACT team delivers their trainings, it has actually increased their reach: thanks to teleconferencing, they’ve been able to host virtual training across King County, training 1,531 providers and counting since the pandemic began.
Schools Want to be Inclusive
“One of my favorite things is when teachers realize they already have many of the skills they need to do inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Kristen McLeskey. “There’s a sense of excitement when they see a strategy being successful, and they start shifting their thinking from ‘Someone else is better qualified to care for this child’ and instead start to realize, ‘I can do this!’
“Schools already want to be inclusive,” she continues, “but sometimes teachers just aren’t sure how to get started or need additional strategies. By providing ongoing consultation, IMPACT goes with them on this journey and helps them adapt their practices to support children with all different needs and abilities.”
“One of my favorite moments was helping a teacher recognize how, despite challenges in her classroom, she was still practicing inclusion,” says IMPACT Inclusion Consultant Erica Yuen. “She wished more people could be patient, because children with challenging behaviors deserve the chance to stay and learn positive behaviors. I commended her for her inclusive mindset—challenging behaviors are often a reason to remove a child from school. The simple act of pointing out her commitment to inclusion was incredibly empowering for her.”
Because IMPACT is sponsored by Public Health – Seattle and King County, Best Starts for Kids of King County's Child Care Health Consultation grant, Northwest Center Kids is able to offer services free of charge to early learning programs that serve children aged birth to five years in King County.
“Childcare is an underfunded and undervalued industry, and I enjoy providing free services that are of value to providers, to support them in the very challenging work that they do,” says Elizabeth Carley, IMPACT Program Coordinator and Mental Health Consultant.
Of course, the most important benefit of IMPACT is the fact that more children are being welcomed and included in early learning across King County, despite their challenges.
“IMPACT consultants are a great resource for us, especially helping me to support our children with special needs,” says one childcare provider. “They encourage us and give all the tips to succeed. Now we can see the big results in each child’s life!”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.