Nine months after her daughter was born with several handicaps, Donna Harrigan of Eldersburg found help from the Carroll public schools in developing her baby's impaired hearing and vision.
But Harrigan said she could have used help with her daughter's medical needs, such as controlling her seizures, along with satisfying her educational requirements. Harrigan said she also needed aid from trained people who could care for her daughter when she had to leave their house on Balsam Lane.
"We just had several needs the school department wasn't able to address, that Social Services and the Health Department might have," Harrigan said.
Until this week, parents of disabled infants and toddlers up to age 3 were on their own to make sure their children received all the educational, medical and social services available to them from public agencies.
Now the three agencies -- the schools, the Carroll County Health Department and Department of Social Services -- will work together to help parents get consistent services, said Luanne Frebertshauser, coordinator of the Carroll County Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program.
Starting this week, if parents of a disabled infant go to any one of those three agencies for help, the nurse, social worker or therapist will become a "case manager" to make sure the other two agencies provide any services the baby needs, Frebertshauser said.
Most families will be referred by a pediatrician or day-care provider, but they can also call Child Find, a program through which professionals alert the schools to children who might need special services, at the schools' main number (848-8280).
The infant will be evaluated by a team including a social worker, audiologist and physical therapist.
"It's not new programs, it's not new services. It's delivering the existing services in an efficient way," Frebertshauser said.
In addition to coordinating services, the program will keep track of any gaps in services and work next year to get more state or federal money to fill them.
Frebertshauser said she expects to find the county needs more money for respite care.
The new program's goal is to give help to babies at important stages of their development of movement, language and other skills, she said.
"Infants grow really quickly," she said. "We need to get to infants and watch their development."
For four years, Frebertshauser, whose part-time salary is paid through a $19,000-a-year planning grant from the state and federal governments, and representatives of the three public agencies have been planning how they will work together.
Last summer, the agencies assigned case managers to three families to test their plans.
Beginning this week, the agencies will assign case managers for all new families coming in, Frebertshauser said.
Last year, 74 children received help from at least one of the agencies, and Frebertshauser projects 98 children will need help this year, based on state figures.
The program also has an 11-member Interagency Coordinating Council composed of heads of the school, Health and Social Services departments; private agencies and colleges; and parents Karen Carpegna, Richard Young and Christine Page.
Carpegna, of Lincoln Road in Westminster, has two children, ages 5 and 7, who need special education.
She said she hopes to help make the paperwork and jargon used by professionals more understandable for parents.
"I remember when they started saying 'OT' and 'PT' (abbreviations for occupational and physical therapy)," she said. "I had never heard of those words before."