TAMPA, Fla. - A day at the park gives children essential building blocks of social interactions and communication, but some of those experiences were lost while kids and families stayed home at the height of the pandemic.
The Child Development Infoline at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is working to provide help for parents whose kids may be struggling with social skills after being isolated due to COVID-19. They provide free screenings for children ages 2 months to 5 years old.
"I've noticed that a lot of parents have concerns with communication," explained intervention specialist Dakota Savaglia.
She says parents should watch for children not talking as much as would be normal for their age, and for a possible lack of interpersonal or social skills.
"Sometimes parents are worried that their children are really, really afraid of strangers or other people, overly afraid," Monique Fletcher, with the Infoline, added.
Savaglia said masks are important for preventing the of disease, but being able to see facial expressions is a key part of developing necessary social skills.
"I have had some parents concerned that it might affect their development just because when we're talking with kids, they rely a lot on our body language, our facial expressions. So having half of someone's face just covered, I could see how that could be a concern for parents," said Savaglia.
The Child Development Infoline is a free service funded by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. They have the goal of helping parents build a healthy foundation for their kids.
Part of that goal is free screenings to check for behavioral and developmental milestones. Parents can come to them with any concern and have their child evaluated, with resources to help if any problems are identified.
"We have the screenings that we provide for free, we have the early intervention services that we try to get families connected to and we also try to see what the other needs are and try to get them connected to things in that area too," said Fletcher.
The pandemic could have a profound impact on their future. Savaglia said research shows the first years of a child's life is important for development in many key areas, including speech and interpersonal skills.
"Children not getting those interactions because of COVID. I'm interested in seeing how that's going to affect them later on because we know before COVIDm if they weren't hitting those milestones, they could have potentially irreversible effects later on down the line from learning disabilities to health effects," she said.
But parents can turn things around by getting a handle on it now.
"Give us a call. Because the earlier that you catch it the better," said Savaglia.
Parents who feel their children need help can call the Child Development Infoline at 813-425-GROW (4769) for free child development screenings.
For more information, visit https://www.crisiscenter.com/what-we-do/2-1-1-contact-center/child-development-infoline/