SPARK lessons help children learn letters and numbers, colors and shapes. The program also helps children develop the social-emotional skills they’ll need for school. But any learning and developmental challenges must also be addressed before a child can be ready for school. That’s where SPARK’s responsive services team comes in.

The responsive services process emerged from Stark County’s uniquely collaborative culture of using “wraparound” to ensure a wide array of social services needs are met. As a defining feature of SPARK, it continues to be a highly effective tool for cultivating school readiness. 

The team meets monthly; it includes parent partners, a child psychologist, a speech-language pathologist, behavioral health professionals, early childhood specialist, and school-based personnel.

When a family begins participating in SPARK, the parent partner administers screenings that include:

  • The Ages and Stages Questionnaire and the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social/Emotional.
  • A brief trauma screening that was developed by SPARK’s consulting psychologist to determine whether there has been exposure to violence, a history of abuse, or other potentially traumatizing events. 
  • A health screening that asks about low birth weight, prenatal care, and other medical issues.

The parent partner will also note concerns expressed by the parent and will observe the child’s behavior and parental interactions. 

If concerns or developmental issues are identified, they’re addressed via the responsive services process. For each child, the team discusses intake information, screening results, observations, interventions received, and progress. A plan is devised, with progress revisited monthly. When challenges require immediate action, suggested interventions may include providing activities tailored to the individual child’s needs, behavioral health appointments, speech therapy, helping a parent enroll the child in preschool, or referral to the school district. Every effort is made to capitalize on existing community resources to efficiently provide specialized services. The team helps parent partners link families to needed services and makes a plan for appropriate follow-up as needed.

The responsive services team is also concerned with the basic needs of SPARK families. School readiness is certainly impaired if a child does not have access to medical treatment, a place to live, or food to eat. Team members represent a number of different community agencies, as well as the local school system. The wraparound approach is especially useful; having everyone present during the discussion greatly increases the likelihood of meeting a family’s needs or connecting to appropriate resources.