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Special Help for Children : Resource center assists in finding services for kids who are developmentally disabled or at risk for developmental delay.

February 19, 1993|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray writes regularly for The Times.

A little more than five years ago, Nancy Mangel of Northridge was pregnant--with twins--when she came down with chicken pox. After repeated ultrasounds that showed no damage to the fetuses, she went into labor feeling fairly confident that everything would be all right.

But it was not. Max was fine, but Emily was born with a deformed arm and leg.

"We were shocked," Mangel says. "It was overwhelming."

Remembering how difficult it was to connect with appropriate services for her daughter, Mangel now volunteers one day a week for the Valley Infant Toddler Resource Center, a referral and information source for families and professionals in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.

The center, based in a room at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, is supported by Los Angeles County's Partnership for Early Development Services of the Office of Special Education Programs. The program is mandated by Public Law 99-457 (Part H), which is intended to guarantee that children who are developmentally disabled or at risk for developmental delay have access to necessary services from birth.

Part of the problem that parents of these children typically face, Mangel says, is that services are not coordinated well, and many health-care providers do not know professionals who offer speech therapy, physical therapy, nutrition counseling, developmental assessment or special education.

"Ninety-nine percent of most pediatricians' patients don't need many of these services, so when they do get a patient who needs help, they may not be up-to-date about where to go," she says.

The center, geared to help parents of children up to age 3, offers assistance in English and Spanish, including referrals, a lending library with books and videos on parenting and special problems, brochures on relevant topics, and follow-up phone calls from volunteers to ensure that the necessary services are obtained.

Started in May, the center gets 15 to 20 calls a month, according to Judith Sultan, project coordinator.

"The majority of calls are seeking child care, transportation or referral for assessment," Sultan says. "Many have gotten late diagnoses, or they need to connect with other parents with similar problems just for support. It helps prevent parent isolation. Once parents get into the system, they are no longer alone."

Phone calls are answered by volunteer parents who, like Mangel, have children with special needs. The volunteers use forms to help ensure that they ask the right questions of the callers and that they use a resource directory to assist them in making referrals, Sultan says.

The social service system is typically overburdened, Sultan says, so the volunteers--who have coped with many of the problems parents report--can help callers find ways to cut red tape and get needed evaluations as early as possible. One of the center's main roles is to coach parents to "cope with the technicalities and to hustle the system," she says.

Sultan recently got a call from a grandmother who thought that her daughter was in complete denial about the developmental progress of her granddaughter.

"We were able to get her right into the system--she was only about 2," Sultan says. "That's what we call success."

WHERE TO GO What: Valley Infant Toddler Resource Center. Address: P. O. Box 57154, Sherman Oaks 91413. Call: (818) 782-1004, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

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