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Lexie Munevar met Henry* and his mother Celia* when they first came to a Parent-Child Activity Group she was running at the San Mateo Medical Center back in January 2016. Henry was a shy four year old, who did not make eye contact and always sat facing away from peers during circle times. Celia suspected her child was autistic but had not been able to get a formal diagnosis. She was determined to figure out how to best support him.

Henry was referred to the First 5-funded Star Vista Healthy Homes program where families receive case management, parent education and parent-child psychotherapy. Lexie began working with them in her role as a Family Partner. An immigrant from Mexico, Celia speaks English well enough to advocate for her child but needed help navigating unfamiliar social systems. At home she was struggling with an abusive alcoholic partner who did not believe Henry needed help. As a mom, Celia felt very much on her own. Lexie began supporting her in both the home and school settings. Together, they were able to start the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process for Henry.

Celia did her best to push for needed services, and Lexie supported her by following up with providers on evaluation outcomes. Ultimately, Lexie referred Celia to the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, where a representative specializing in IEP injustices was able to take on her case. In the meantime, things at home grew more unstable. Together, Celia and Lexie created a safety plan and persevered towards family goals. Then they focused on other case management needs, such as connecting with an immigration attorney, applying for affordable housing, referring to a domestic violence shelter in case of emergency, and food assistance programs in the community.

Over the course of a year, Henry progressed significantly. He is now a smiling, social kid with a lot to say. Henry receives occupational and speech therapy both in and out of school, as well as feeding therapy that helps Celia support his need for a sensory diet. Through the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Curriculum, Henry has developed communication, interpersonal and fine motor skills with Celia’s guidance and encouragement. The PAT activities strengthened their parent-child relationship. Now that Henry is connected to appropriate services, Celia has noticed how much happier and confident he is at home and in school. She is grateful to have learned effective ways to support Henry across different areas of development.

Celia and Henry are examples of what families can accomplish with resiliency and determination when given a helping hand. First 5 San Mateo County works to ensure all families with young children have a support system that is easier to access, navigate and utilize. Lexie says, “As a Family Partner, I have felt privileged to view their growth and know that the work I accomplished with the family has only set the foundation for a limitless future that lies ahead.”

*Client names and images changed for confidentiality.