Mental Health Mondays – Accessing Early Childhood Screening & Intervention

Mental Health Mondays - March 1 Event

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“Accessing Early Childhood Screening & Intervention”
On Monday, March 1, Dr. Beth McBride, Director of Early Learning for Collier County Public School District; Dr. Courtney Whitt, Director of Integrated Behavioral Health for Healthcare Network; Danielle Cwikla, ESE Coordinator for Collier County Public Schools; Dr. Deidre Phillips, Coordinator of the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS); and Imperia Torres, Family Resource Specialist for Early Steps Southwest Florida discussed Future Ready Collier and how to access early childhood screening & intervention.

What is Future Ready Collier?
It’s a network of more than 60 organizations, businesses, schools and community members working to ensure that every child is ready for kindergarten.

Early Childhood Screening and Intervention is Essential 
The first few years of life are development prime time, which is why screening and early intervention is important. Screening includes the identification of signs or symptoms of learning or mental health concerns. Screening indicates areas that may need further evaluation. Screening can include motor, speech/language, social-emotional, behavioral, personal-social/adaptive, problem-solving/cognitive and condition-specific screenings such as Autism Spectrum disorders.

Early childhood intervention includes connecting children and their families to services to address developmental delays and disabilities, such as specialists providing direct services, center or classroom tailored learning or information and support for families and others to promote development. Benefits include improving school performance and behavior that can last into adulthood.

The first 5 years are the most important for a child’s development. 90% of brain development occurs before the age of 5, which is why it’s critical that children with developmental delays receive help as early as possible.

You are the Best Advocate for the Child in Your Life 
You can start the process to get a child screened. Screening provides data information about how a child is developing compared with peers. Screening can provide information to close the gaps on lagging skills and promote individual child strengths.

How do I get started? 
Early Steps is a program for children from birth to age 3 under the Health Planning Council. The Southwest Florida program covers Lee, Hendry, Collier and Glades counties. Family income is not considered for the program. A child who is diagnosed with an established condition is evaluated in five developmental areas. If the scores show delay, the child may be eligible for service. Also, children with a birth weight of less than 1,200 grams are eligible. Children may also be eligible based on the evaluation of two professionals. Providers available for services: developmental, behavior, hearing and vision specialists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; nurses, audiologists and licensed mental health counselors. Individualized family support plan (IFSP) is created by professionals who evaluated the child and the parents to work together to plan goals and outcomes for the child’s needs. How do you make referrals to Early Steps? Online (English and Spanish): For children 0 to 34.5 months, make a referral by phone, 239-433-6700 or (866) 547-2793. During COVID, services have been provided by Tele-health.

Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) is a federal and state-funded project that provides free services for children at risk of having a disability, parents and families, and schools and childcare facilities. The FDLRS Island Coast center serves Lee and Collier Counties. One function of FDLRS is to support the district’s child-find efforts. Who is eligible for a screening?: Any child between the ages of three to 5 that’s not enrolled in a public-school program. Who can refer? Parents, family members, teacher, health care provider and childcare providers can make a referral. Process: Once a referral is received, a screening will be set up with a parent or legal guardian at Golden Gate Elementary, the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee, or virtually. The Parent/Guardian provides consent, documents, release of records, and completes the parent questionnaire. Areas screened: development, language, speech, self-help, social-emotional, vision and hearing to look for risk factors. If results are within age expectations, strategies and resources will be discussed. If results indicate potential delay, the child will be referred to the school district’s Pre-K assessment Team for further evaluation to see if the child qualifies for exceptional student education. How do I make a referral? For children 34.5 months to 5 years, make a referral to FDLRS at 239-337-8199 or online at Faxed referrals are not accepted.

Early Learning Programs in Collier County Public Schools 
Exceptional Student Education (ESE) is offered to children ages 3-5 who have been identified with a disability, which can include speech and language impairment, vision and hearing loss, developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder. Programs are offered to students at no cost to parents. Services can include speech/language therapy, preschool classroom placement. Services are determined through the Individual Education Plan (IEP, which looks at the issues and develops goals that can be achieved within a year, the types of services needed. Head Start federally funded program for children 4 years old from low-income families in foster care or who are homeless. The program focuses on school readiness, family involvement and connecting families to resources. Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) is a free half-day program offered to all 4-year-olds in the state. A full-day program is available where half the day is paid by the state and half by the parents. Collier County School District has limited spaces that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Enrollment begins Dec. 1 the year before they are eligible. There are other VPK providers in the community ( Children can attend VPK program before kindergarten during the school year. If they do not attend during the school year, they can attend a VPK summer program before kindergarten. Migrant Family Literacy Program for pre-school-aged children identified as migrant to increase parent awareness of their child’s development and educational needs. A teacher goes to the home (also available virtually) to help teach the parent early literacy skills.

How your pediatrician can become a collaborative partner in your child’s education 
Collier County Public School teams are open to receiving and sharing medical information with your physician if you wish, particularly if there is evaluation involved. A consent form is necessary to do so. School teams can provide any diagnostic or educational records to parents and medical professionals to assist with medical diagnosis or referrals for other services.



  • Early Steps of Southwest Florida
  • Florida Diagnostic Learning and Resource System (FDLRS) Island Coast
    • Phone: (239) 337-8199
    • Physical Address: 8691 Daniels Center, Suite 401; Naples, FL 33912
    • Web:
    • Notes: Screening for development, language, speech, self-help development, social-emotional development, vision, and hearing.
  • Healthcare Network
    • Phone: (239) 658-3000
    • Physical Address: Multiple; Located in Naples and Immokalee
    • Web:
    • Notes: Provides routine screening as part of children’s well-child visits, including autism screening at 18 and 24-months and social-emotional screening for children ages 3 – 5.
  • NAMI H.U.G.S.
    • Phone: (239) 260-7307
    • Physical Address: 6216 Trail Blvd., Bldg. C; Naples, FL 34108
    • Web:
    • Notes: Screening for social–emotional development for children 2 months to 18 years old. Also provide referrals and system navigation support.


  • Collier County Public Schools Pre-K options and enrollment information
  • Future Ready Collier Mental Health Mondays PowerPoint presentation
  • The Road Through Child Find, FDLRS Island Coast
  • Future Ready Collier County organizations committed to Kindergarten readiness



Q: How old does a child need to be (minimum) in order to get screened in Collier County?
A: A child needs to be under three years old to get screening for Early Steps. Birth to 34.5 months old. After that, they are referred to FDLRS.

Q: For students who require ESE services (ages 3-5) does CCPS provide any wrap services for parents who work past the end of the school day? 
A: The majority of CCPS elementary schools have on-site after-school care for parents who elect this fee for service after school program.