An Early Childhood Community Safety Net

Slow down for a moment. Take a deep breath and listen to the music as you read the following.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

This common version of a nearly 250 year old English nursery rhyme and lullaby sets the stage for taking a look at those in our community who serve a special population of infants, the very young and their families. Their efforts provide an opportunity to alter the not so soothing ending of this lullaby. To create a vision of their role, imagine a safety net below as that cradle begins to fall and sing to yourself a new final verse . . .

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

Into a safety net, cushioning the fall,

All sorts of people, answering a call.

A safety net is something that catches you when you fall through the cracks. It can prevent you from harm. A safety net can hold you while you heal. For infants and children 0-3 years who are at- risk with developmental, social, emotional, and physical disabilities a safety net can be a life changer or a life saver.

Over forty years ago, a single thread began to weave a local safety net for infants and the very young who may be at risk for developmental and other disabilities. That thread was held in the hand of Rosemary Zenti. Mrs. Zenti worked initially as the Pre-school Special Education Coordinator for the Marquette- Alger Intermediate School District now known as the Marquette –Alger Regional Educational Service Agency. Her role initially involved making educational home visits then expanding to supervisor of many educational support services and community based educational programs.

Mrs. Zenti has been considered a pioneer by her peers. She saw the importance of stringing together each of the disciplines that would be interacting with the infant, young child and their families. Her thread netted the hospital obstetrics nurses, physicians and staff, various specialists in health care, Public Health Department maternal/child health nurses, social workers and case workers from the Dept. of Health & Human Services, and Mental Health Services.

Information was exchanged between providers who shared a common goal of serving this special population. For the parents, this safety net gave them order. It gave them some calm in knowing that the moving parts of their varying and shifting challenges were indeed connected.

Mrs. Zenti’s early coordinating efforts are local history and lore as the beginning of what would evolve into the Marquette-Alger High Risk Committee (HRC). The HRC meets annually to share updates in various program services and address priority issues. The HRC has sustained and grown over forty years because the need remains. During this time, advancements have been made in knowledge, technology and prevention strategies.

For example, healthy pregnancy messages once targeted tobacco and alcohol use have shifted to include prevailing recreational drug use by the mother and its impact on newborns. Brain research has provided validation of the continued growth of an infant’s brain five or more years after birth. This knowledge now drives numerous health, social, and emotional recommendations for parents and caregivers. Simple daily actions that support continued healthy brain development can have critical and lifelong healthy impacts.

Additional networks have also developed such as the Great Start Collaborative. The objective is a great start for every child in Marquette and Alger Counties with the opportunity to be safe, healthy and eager to succeed in education and life. Federal legislation has shaped funding and levels of service through the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990.

A cornerstone of the HRC is the Early On program. Its collaborators include the original inter-disciplinary team and crafters of the safety net from Mrs. Zenti’s era: local physicians, nurses, hospitals, Pathways – mental health, local health departments, MARESA, and the Dept. of Human Services.

When a baby is born, everyone hopes that he/she will be healthy and develop in the usual way. Sometimes, however, things don’t go as planned. For those with this uncertainty, “We are concerned about the development of our child.” the Early On program is there to answer, “We can help.” There are developmental stages associated with age that each child typically goes through. The following are examples of guidelines from Early On that can provide assistance in deciding to seek help:

At three months, most children smile, make cooing sounds, turn their heads toward light and bright colors, grasp rattles or hair, and lift their heads and chests while on their stomachs.  At six months, most children follow moving objects with their eyes, turn toward sounds, roll from their stomachs to their backs, reach for or pick up objects, recognize familiar faces, and babble.

At one year, most children pull themselves to a standing position, drink from a cup, crawl, wave bye-bye, and may have a two or three word vocabulary. At two years, most children use two or three word sentences, feed themselves with a spoon, build a tower of four blocks, show affection, and play independently. At three years, most children walk up steps alternating feet, put on shoes, and play with other children for a few minutes.

There is no charge to families for Early On screening, evaluation, assessment, or service coordination.  Additional services available are as comparably vast as the potential need. Examples include: speech pathology, audiology, occupational and physical therapy, psychological services, nursing and social work services, vision, special equipment, nutritional counseling, transportation, family skills training and counseling, toy lending, and play groups. If there are cost for additional services, the Early On service coordinator will assist with determining whether there are financial resources to help pay for them.

At the December 2012 HRC over thirty representatives of programs and services attended. The following are samples of  the scope of agencies and program highlights:

Marquette County Health Department : Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition;  Meth awareness/prevention; Family Support Education Coordination; Pregnant and Parenting Teen Project; Children Special Health Care Services; preventive fluoride varnish dental health services.  Early Head Start: home visiting program; home based program for pregnant women and babies from 0-3 yrs.; Health Literacy for Parents.

Bay Cliff Health Camp: various summer therapy camp programs. Department of Human Services (Marquette Co.)Foster Care/Licensing: steady increase in the number of children removed from their homes and placed in out of home care over the past year.  There have been 23 children removed in the past four months.  The majority of cases involve parents with a substance abuse problem. UP Family Solutions:  mental health counseling primarily with abused and/or neglected children. Pathways Infant Mental Health Specialist: services to mental illness, serious emotional disturbances, and developmental disabilities who have the most severe and/or urgent needs. Marquette General Hospital: First time moms follow up; In-Hospital Halo Sleep sack program; Breastfeeding Initiative and numerous parenting classes; drug exposed infants; specialty clinics.  Superior Central School:  Parent Involvement in Education, home visits, group meetings, developmental screenings.

The educational topic of the December 2012 HRC meeting was Safe Sleep for Babies. Locally infant deaths have been attributed to unsafe sleeping environments. The HRC members have established educating the public about current safe sleep practices a priority. This is a challenge with a powerful element –family values. Parents of newborns are faced with many issues related to infant care do’s and don’ts that have been passed on from generation to generation. Some come with a few twists and modernized updates. And there are two, sometimes more, sides of a family to hear from.

Where does the baby sleep and how presents a challenge and relationship balancing act.  The advice is flying as fast as the need for a diaper change. The stress and tension from attempting to appease well-meaning advisors leaves sleep deprived new parents closer to whit’s end.

The HRC seeks to help new parents with  decision making by providing research based information for the grandparents, family members,  babysitters, child care providers, neighbors and anyone who cares for the baby about the safest way for the baby to sleep.

Editor – this would be great for a text box:

Infant Safe Sleep Steps

DO’s –

1. Baby sleep in crib. Baby sleeps by him or herself in a crib, portable crib or bassinet.

2. Baby sleeps on back. Always put baby to sleep on his or her back even when he can roll over.

3. Baby’s face uncovered. Keep baby’s face uncovered during sleep for easy breathing. Use a sleeper instead of a blanket.

4. Firm mattress, tight-fitting sheets.

5. Do encourage tummy time when babies are awake. They need tummy time but always and only if someone is with the baby and watching. If baby falls asleep on the tummy, place him or her on the back in a safe place.

6. Consider using a pacifier.

7. Do tell all caregivers about safe sleep.


1. Nothing in sleep area. No pillows, blankets, comforters, stuffed animals or other soft things.

2. No smoking. Don’t allow anyone to smoke anything around baby.

3. Overheat or over dress the baby. Dress the baby in as much or as little clothing as you are wearing.

4. Place an infant to sleep on an adult bed or couch. If you feed your baby in bed, put your baby back into his/her crib to sleep.

It is interesting that an Early On developmental guideline for three year old children is their ability to repeat nursery rhymes. “ Into a safety net, cushioning the fall. All sorts of people, answering a call.”

Note: Thank you to Holly Bailey-Bolt, MARESA for contributing information.

For more information contact:

High Risk Committee: MARESA- Early On: Marquette 226-5154

Early On Alger Co. Health Dept. 387-2297 ext. 115

Great Start Collaborative Marquette-Alger Counties: (906) 226-5157 ;


Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.