Programs help local children

BUCKHANNON — Deanna Warner didn’t plan on being employed as a parent partner with Mountain Heart Community Services Inc., a statewide child care resource and referral service based in Elkins.

However, through a twist of fate involving her now 7-year-old son, Tyler, she found a job she’s passionate about, she told the Buckhannon Rotary Club at its meeting Tuesday.

When he was just 8 months old, Tyler joined one of the numerous programs Mountain Heart Community Services offers: West Virginia Birth to Three, the state’s early intervention program for children with developmental delays.

“His development was typical up until 6 months of age when he received some vaccination and developed an illness where he regressed immensely from being able to sit up unsupported, starting to babble, things like that to where he was just a limp noodle,” Warner told Rotary members. “He had no control of any of the muscles in his body.”

Warner said Tyler remains undiagnosed, and medical professionals have not linked her son’s regression to the routine vaccine he received. In fact, Tyler is “the perfect example” of why immunizations are so critical, as he relies on herd immunity to stay disease-free, meaning everyone who comes in contact with him must be vaccinated, Warner said.

Thanks to W.Va. Birth to Three, Tyler underwent intense therapy in speech, vision and other areas to try to regain some developmental milestones, Warner said.

“Tyler will turn 7 Saturday, and he is still receiving special needs services from the Upshur County school system,” she said. “But he is still at the developmental age of 4 to 6 months. He is G-tube (gastrostomy tube) dependent because he aspirates. He doesn’t sit unsupported or walk or anything like that. He’s a pretty awesome little guy that rolls around.”

Her experience raising Tyler prepared Warner for the parent partner position Mountain Heart later offered her.

“I think of all the duties I have, my favorite part is getting to step in and help that family that has that child that’s very medically fragile in getting the services and supports that they need,” Warner said. “Aside from that, I get to go and talk about the programs to various groups of people, whether it be parents at a community baby shower or college students who are interested in learning about the services in the communities.”

The W.Va. Birth to Three program is just one of the many programs Mountain Heart makes available to parents and their kids throughout West Virginia. Program directors Rachel Hamner and Willetta Bolinger — who accompanied Warner to Tuesday’s Rotary meeting — also discussed the breadth of programs and services Mountain Heart provides including income eligibility for child care services; professional development opportunities for child care providers and the community; resource and referral; behavioral consultant services; and much more.

Bolinger said Mountain Heart’s ultimate goal is to enhance the quality, affordability and availability of child care in West Virginia. It is a child care resource and referral agency funded through the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources, which, in turn, gets its money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s kind of a three-fold program,” Bolinger explained. “We have a portion that’s a subsidy, and what that does is for parents and individuals who need assistance with their child care costs, they can come in and apply at our offices. It is income-based, and they have to meet eligibility requirements through the DHHR.

“We have a lot of parents that say that if it hadn’t been for the assistance that they receive to help pay for child care, they would not have been able to work or attend school,” Bolinger added.

The second component of Mountain Heart’s child care program provides professional development by offering training and certification to child care providers.

“We do training in a variety of topics,” Bolinger said. “It can be special needs, it can be things that help them with their curriculum, and we can actually even go out and provide on-site technical assistance to help child care providers.”

The third part of the child care program is resource and referral, meaning anyone can call Mountain Heart to obtain general information about a variety of topics pertaining to child care, child development, parenting and more.

Hamner supplied several local statistics, saying the W.Va. Birth to Three program serves 35 children in Upshur County, all of whom were found eligible for ongoing services. The Birth to Three program provides in-home therapy services for free to families throughout the Mountain State.

“The majority of our kiddos in Upshur County are being referred to us for speech, so it’s kiddos that are 18 months to 30 months who could take your dishwasher apart and put it back together, but they could never tell you how they did it,” Hamner said. Other children are eligible for services because of developmental delays, established conditions such as autism or down syndrome and factors related to substantiated cases of abuse and/or neglect.

Substantiated cases of abuse and/or neglect is a common reason children are removed from their homes, Warner said, noting she recently learned there are 6,300 kids in foster care in the state.

“Eighty percent of those 6,300 cases are drug-related,” Warner said, citing the opioid epidemic as well as an increase in the use of methamphetamine.

To learn more about Mountain Heart Community Services, visit

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