Frankfort, KY – Did you know that hearing begins prior to birth? It's true, says Carolyn Kisler of the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
"The fetus, at around 24 weeks, can hear outside noises, and so we know that begins that neural connection that we make to hearing later," said Kisler.
But Kisler told the Governor's Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education, hearing difficulties are the most common sensory birth defect.
"In Kentucky, we have 55-thousand births a year, which means that somewhere between 13-hundred-50 and 27-hundred of those babies, if you look at the statistics, then you're going to find that those children are born with hearing loss," said Kisler.
Therefore, she says, it's vital for hearing loss be diagnosed before three months of age.
"We should know whether or not they have a hearing loss, or they do not. And also, with that in mind, that before they're six months of age, that intervention services are in place," said Kisler.
A law approved in 2000 established state hearing screening mandates for newborns. And while the measure increased the number of children being screened, it required little follow-up on their progress. That was resolved this year with legislation setting audiological standards, identifying approved assessment centers and requiring them to report their findings to the state. All of these efforts are improving early childhood healthcare and development, says task force member Sadiqa Reynolds, but more needs to be done. She says parents of newborns need more information on what services are out there.
"What is frustrating to me as a very young, and new mother - it's interesting that this information, why didn't I have it? It seems that the best thing we could do, if we have very little money - is it no money at all? - little to no money, but maybe the best bang for our buck would be the training and support for the parents and professionals," said Reynolds.
And that's where the task force comes in, says Health and Family Services Secretary Janie Miller, who co-chairs the panel. The group is covering all facets of early childhood development, from hearing and vision, to oral health, diseases and immunizations, education, daycare, and even substance abuse treatment programs for pregnant and postpartum women.
"We want to identify where we are doing a good job and to make sure that is integrated and coordinated and communicated, so that in fact, we have pieces of the system that we want to work toward pulling that system together, so it is in fact a full-fledged system of service and support - again, making sure that our young children are developing in the way that they need to do, because, again, one stage of life builds upon the prior stage," said Miller.
And Miller believes one of the best ways to do that is to build on strong early childhood programs already in place in the commonwealth, like KIDS NOW. Developed during the administration of Governor Paul Patton, KIDS stands for Kentucky Invests in Developing Success.
"I think the KIDS NOW program, funded with Tobacco Settlement funds, was a significant, cohesive program," said Miller.
But Miller says the state needs to reach even higher, and the task force will continue looking for answers. Governor Beshear's executive order creating the panel set no specific date for a final report, but calls on the group to "develop a unified vision for early childhood education and development."