There’s no easy way to say it: Referrals are at an all-time high at our Early Learning Center and we’re seeing first-hand how the pandemic has torn the fabric of our most vulnerable children’s lives in ways we have never seen before.

The needs are significant. Parents are struggling. Families are coming to us who are homeless, dealing with domestic violence and living in apartments with no heat.

“We’re all collectively going through a traumatic event,” said Karen McClure-Richard, director of Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center. “Life is stressful right now.”

Our Early Learning Center in Auburn provides early intervention and educational programming for children ages three to six. Karen and her team of educators are seeing a huge slide in daily living skills among their students.

A great number of kids are still on bottles at age four and many kids require feeding therapy.

“A lot of our kiddos slated for kindergarten are still in diapers, and there’s no developmental or medical reason why,” Karen continued.

When life feels out of control, toileting, talking, eating and sleeping are things kids can control and there’s a huge slide in development of these areas. Many of the children at the Early Learning Center have spent half their lives in a pandemic and are struggling with social emotional skills as well.

“Most of the kids are pretty good at keeping themselves busy, but they’re not really sure what to do with other people,” said Karen. “They haven’t grasped the basics of how to greet people, play with other kids, or take turns. We’re seeing a lot of ‘grab and go’ where kids want something and just take it without asking and don’t understand why that’s not good.”

Referral numbers are double what they were pre-Covid, and with this growing rate of enrollment, the Early Learning Center needs more classroom space and additional staff. A new occupational therapist joined the team this winter and the center is on track to add a new classroom in 2023.

“We can’t go around this, we have to go through it,” Karen concluded. “We’re doing everything we can to create the best plan possible for each child and build on the scaffolding of what we have.”

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