$10 Million for National Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center Awarded to UConn

'At UConn inclusion and belonging is woven into everything we do'

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UConn School of Medicine’s Mary Beth Bruder, Ph.D. has been awarded a $10 million federal grant by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education, to provide technical assistance to increase equity in the delivery of early childhood intervention services to infants and young children from diverse backgrounds who have disabilities or developmental delays.

The new Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center is national in scope, and will be working with state systems of early childhood intervention, and institutions of higher education (IHE) who prepare the workforce to provide these services.

The Center is charged with assisting state systems to create more equity in early childhood intervention access, participation, and outcomes for all infants, young children, and their families, especially those who have traditionally been underserved because of racial, ethnic, and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds. The Center will also be creating equity-based curriculum for IHE and state in-service personnel preparation programs who prepare early childhood intervention teachers, therapists, and specialists. The curriculum will be competency based and aligned with practice standards to ensure the early intervention workforce will be able to create and provide appropriate and effective service models that will be welcoming to families and their children from diverse backgrounds.

Mary Beth Bruder.
Mary Beth Bruder (UConn Health Photo)

Another focus of the center is to work with IHEs to recruit students into early childhood intervention personnel preparation programs who are more representative of the population served. That is, students who have diverse racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic backgrounds, and will graduate and become teachers, therapists, and specialists and serve infants and young children with disabilities or developmental delays who are also diverse.

“This large, federal grant funding will grow, diversify, and truly strengthen the nation’s early childhood workforce and provide more equitable interventions for infants and young children with disabilities and their families,” says Bruder, a leading early childhood intervention expert and professor at the UConn School of Medicine and the UConn Neag School of Education.

The latest U.S. Department of Education data show that children of color and diverse backgrounds are less likely to be receiving services than those in all other racial/ethnic groups combined. In addition, the personnel entering the early intervention and preschool special education fields do not reflect the demographics of these young children and families being served, with most personnel being predominately white.

“UConn, other universities, and over 40 national professional organizations are working with us on the center, as the work is so important,” Bruder says. “The combined efforts of all our partners will be needed to improve the current disparities in service delivery that is experienced by families and their children because of their diversity. Likewise, IHE programs have long recognized the importance of attracting, supporting and preparing students from racial, ethnic, and linguistically diverse backgrounds across the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree levels, and supporting them to enter and stay in the early childhood profession.”

According to Bruder, this is a daunting task, as many of the structural and systemic barriers to equity for those with diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds have been tolerated for too long. Dismantling these barriers through improved training curricula for a diversified workforce is the first step in societal change for infants and young children and families who have intersecting characteristics of disability and other defining characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and primary language that has compounded the disparities they have experienced. Providing equitable access and participation in early childhood intervention services and supports is the first step to improving and having long term impact on their quality of life.

This February, Katherine Neas, the Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education, participated in the UConn School of Medicine two-day summit about the newly awarded Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center. This new federal funding stems from President Biden’s June 2021 Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce to strengthen it by drawing further from the full diversity of our nation.

The new Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center is part of UConn’s longtime federally funded cross-campus Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service (UCEDD) based at the School of Medicine, which is also directed by Bruder.

Since the 1980s, it has been devoted to helping those with disabilities and their families to enhance their quality of life. Funded by the Federal Developmental Disabilities Act, the goal of UConn’s UCEDD, one of 67 centers nationwide, is to help persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible, be productive members of society, work in paying jobs, and have the greatest quality of life possible. Bruder and her team achieve this through multidisciplinary scientific research, evidence-based intervention practices, and community-based service delivery and ongoing policy reform, while also training future researchers, community leaders, and others in helping people with disabilities navigate challenges facing them.

Each year, UConn UCEDD trains dozens of graduate students from different professional disciplines and an additional dozen doctoral student scholars in early childhood and disability studies at research universities across the country.

“At UConn, inclusion and belonging is woven into everything we do,” says Bruder. “Our new Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center will be improving the early childhood intervention system and its equity for all children with disabilities including those from diverse backgrounds. We will ensure the future workforce we train, and who cares for children with disabilities, better reflects these children’s demographics.”

In addition to the UConn School of Medicine, The Early Childhood Intervention Personnel Development Equity Center is a collaboration with UConn, the Neag School of Education and the School of Social Work, the Georgetown University Child Development Center (UCEDD), the Federation of Children with Special Needs and the Division for Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children, and a large network of other IHEs and for profit and non-profit organization partners.

Dr. Jeffrey F. Hines, the chief diversity officer of UConn Health, applauds the ongoing work of Bruder and her newly established Equity Center’s importance.

“People are best served by people who can identify with those serving them,” says Hines. “A more diversified workforce will help children with disabilities and their families of diverse backgrounds how to navigate. This diversification will create a culture of inclusion to benefit the children and families being served.”