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FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Kiersten Elsasser has seen the success.

More than a year ago, a local family was concerned with their 2-year-old's lack of verbal skills.

This is where Sixpence could help. Working with the child and the family, Elsasser helped the little girl develop language skills.

"We now have a toddler who is saying three- to four-word sentences and is communicating with her mom and her brother on a regular basis and is much more on track with her peers who will be going into preschool," Elsasser said.

Sixpence is a home-visiting program that serves families with the greatest need in the Fremont community. These families have children ages 0 to 3 and this also includes those with prenatal children.

The local Sixpence program — one of more than 30 statewide — now serves 52 children, the Fremont Tribune reported.

"One of our biggest goals with Sixpence is to help families and children transition out of our program at the age of 3 into a preschool in the Fremont community," said Lauren Stoklasa, program coordinator.

With this in mind, coordinators work with the family and the child to help the little one become educationally and socially ready.

"We serve these families in the home and work on child development skills," Stoklasa said.

Skills involve communication and social, emotional and personal development. Staffers work to help a child develop fine and gross motor skills.

Coordinator Carie Schmidt cited the importance of helping children at this early age.

"Through research, we know that about 80 percent of a child's brain is developed by the time they're 3 years old, so working with children and their families in those early years is important for that reason alone," Schmidt said.

In addition, the agency helps provide parenting guidance and connects families with community resources. Parents can learn how to support their children's language development and gain the knowledge to help guide their children's growth during their early years and beyond.

Sixpence offers a monthly parent-child group during which families can come together and participate in a social activity. This provides parents with an opportunity to network and children a chance to practice social skills with others similar to their age.

Families served include those who have a low income; past or current substance abuse; a caregiver who doesn't have a high school diploma; English Language Learners; teen parents; or a parent who's been incarcerated. The families may have mental health-related issues such as depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder.

"When we have families who are experiencing one or more of these traits, it can make it difficult for that child to enter preschool ready to go," Stoklasa said. "So by having our program as early intervention, we can set that family up for success."

Referrals come from numerous sources, including: pediatric offices, Child Protective Services, the school system, Lutheran Family Services and other family serving agencies. Methodist Fremont Health may refer prenatal moms to Sixpence.

Sixpence began in Fremont in 2013. That's when Fremont Public Schools wrote a grant for the program and was awarded it. Since then, it's written three more grants.

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When the program began in Fremont, it had one coordinator and 15 children. Now it has four coordinators, who besides Stoklasa, Schmidt and Elsasser, include Erin Dostal.

The local entity isn't able to accept more children at this time, but has a waiting list. Anytime a family moves away or a child enters preschool, the program can take new referrals.

Stoklasa noted that Sixpence recently changed locations. The office is now at 445 E. First St., which is being updated as the Olson Community Engagement Center in Fremont.

The new location offers more opportunities.

"We have more space and so we're hoping to hold more community events at our location as well as more small playgroups for families to come into our building to work on those interactions," Stoklasa said. "We also hope to hold more classes for parents and children in our facility."

Those could include child development, parenting and birth classes.

Elsasser notes the progress seen with the 2-year-old, whose language skills were lacking last year. Her family has noted the improvements as well.

"They feel like she's actually prepared now, whereas before we didn't have any language skills so that a big concern," Elsasser said. "Now, they're much more confidence in their abilities and their child's abilities. It's been wonderful."

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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