Every Child Deserves the Best Start in Life

Our work with Easterseals is closing gaps in health, education and equity to give children the best possible start.

Sustainability|Dec.14, 2022

From delayed diagnoses to missed opportunities for age-appropriate care, too many children with disabilities – especially children in under-resourced communities – start kindergarten without much-needed support and resources.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that Black children with autism and other disabilities are diagnosed an average of three years after their parents first express concerns about their development. This prevents children from getting the timely care and support they need to improve their health and develop skills that can help them succeed in school. 

Longstanding, systemic inequities like this were also exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, which caused steep declines in primary and preventive healthcare services among many children with special needs and those living in low-income households.   

We're partnering with Easterseals to find new ways to help.

Laying the Groundwork Through the Black Child Fund

In 2021, our foundation, the Abbott Fund, became the first sponsor of Easterseals' Black Child Fund to help address health disparities and ensure timely diagnosis and treatment for Black children with autism and other disabilities.

In its first year, the Black Child Fund helped families in Illinois, Missouri and Kansas gain access to developmental screenings and early intervention services including physical, occupational and speech therapies for autism and other disabilities. The number of Black families seeking services and support from Easterseals in these markets increased 87%, with more than 300 Black children screened for early diagnosis of autism and other disabilities in just one year. Of these children, 80% were five years old or younger, with 75% requiring and receiving additional services through Easterseals.

Looking beyond the numbers, the Black Child Fund also has helped strengthen relationships between Black communities and service providers, fostering more equitable and more culturally responsive services and support for children with disabilities and their families. 

We made a lot of progress in a short time, but it’s clear there's more to be done.

Launching a New Pilot Program to Improve Health Equity

To build on the impact of the Black Child Fund, we’re expanding our work with Easterseals to pilot their newest program, the Project on Education and Community Health Equity (PEACHE). Supported by a $750,000 grant from the Abbott Fund, this three-year program aims to break down barriers to high-quality education and healthcare for children and families in under-resourced communities to help them prepare for kindergarten and reach their full potential.

The PEACHE program focuses on three areas:

  • Developing a cultural competency training program, resource library, and standards of teaching
  • Providing targeted social services to help families overcome gaps in basic needs, including nutrition, transportation, and other social and economic barriers
  • Building the PEACHE Data Dashboard to facilitate data collection for all Easterseals Affiliates and their community partners to better understand the relationship between early childhood healthcare access and educational performance

"We are really excited about what the PEACHE Dashboard will offer. Being able to analyze data side by side, such as child educational progress vs. health records, will allow for us to strengthen services to children, families and staff," said Elizabeth Mulligan, Area Director, Child Development Services of Easterseals Southern California.

"We are excited to be a part of the PEACHE Project as we believe that enhancing our teacher's cultural competency will impact kindergarten readiness for our children," said Robert Gwaltney, Vice President, Early Education and Care, Easterseals North Georgia.

PEACHE will roll out in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and surrounding regions to gather initial findings to help inform future work by Easterseals' network of 70 affiliates in communities nationwide.

"We're proud to partner with Easterseals to better support children and their families by fostering more equitable access to health services and supporting kindergarten readiness," said Suki McClatchey, Director, Global Citizenship, Abbott. "By providing access to health screenings and services for children, as well as support for parents and early childhood educators, we’re helping to better position children for lifelong success."

Through collaborations like this, we hope to continue to break down barriers to good health – closing gaps in equity to help children with disabilities access the services, support and resources needed for a healthy start.

Our work with Easterseals aligns with goals included in our 2030 Sustainability Plan, helping advance health equity and access to care. To learn more about this work, click here. To learn more about Easterseals, click here.