Simla Elementary School kindergarten teacher Holly Koehn's classroom at the Big Sandy School Monday, February 25, 2019. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Anne Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

A decade ago young children who missed key developmental milestones — like walking or talking — too often fell through the cracks in northern Colorado’s Grand and Jackson counties.

Some were never screened for delays as babies or toddlers. Others were screened, but not referred to the right place for a full evaluation. Many parents didn’t know that their children should be screened or that they could receive free therapy if significant delays were discovered.

In short, the local early intervention system was a mess.

Today, that’s changed because of a regional effort to get doctors, child care providers, therapy providers, and school officials on the same page as they work to meet a federal mandate requiring early intervention for children with developmental delays.

Members of the coalition that spearheaded the $320,000 Meeting Milestones Initiative say the project has boosted screening rates dramatically in the region. In 2014, only about 30% of children 5 and under got routine developmental screenings in Grand and Jackson counties. Now, nearly 80% do, and in some years the number has been close to 100%.

Catching delays and providing therapies to help children catch up in their earliest years not only capitalizes on a key period of brain growth, but can reduce the need for special education services later on.