Poulsen Receives Appointment From Governor

The responsibilities of raising a perfectly healthy infant are already taxing enough on parents. But when their young child has special needs, the stress on a family can skyrocket. This issue has always guided the work of Pasadena resident Marie Poulsen, the chief pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Poulsen believes that the best way to aid a developmentally delayed or disabled baby is by also providing care for the family who is supporting it.
Gov. Jerry Brown agrees, and recently appointed Poulsen to chair the Interagency Coordinating Council on Early Intervention. The ICC is composed of parents, service providers, health care professionals, California lawmakers and others interested in early intervention. This forum partners with the Department of Developmental Services to establish a statewide program that goes beyond just enhancing the development of children with disabilities. The ICC also focuses on parents, fostering their capacity to meet their own children’s needs.
“In California, most of our service systems are child-serving or adult-serving systems. But when you’re looking at the needs of a baby, a toddler, you really want to look at a family service system,” Poulsen said. “What we see in California is that parents were asking for extra support in looking at the social-emotional development of their children.”
Poulsen’s appointment comes at a crucial time for the pediatric community. Federal funding for early intervention programs now requires states to report measurable data on a significant developmental outcome in children by the year 2020. These outcomes may include a toddler’s ability to express emotions, regulate behavior and form meaningful relationships. California is one of 23 states that have chosen to focus on quantifying the social-emotional development of at-risk children as its outcome.
“What we’re really looking at is training the health education and developmental practitioners who are serving children to be mindful of the social-emotional development as much as their health, as much as their other cognitive development, as much as their physical or language development,” said Poulsen, who also serves as associate director of behavioral health at the USC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
In 2015 alone, the Department of Developmental Services reached 52,962 infants and toddlers in California through its early intervention program known as Early Start — which currently receives partial federal funding through Part C of the Individuals With Disability Education Act.
The Poulsen-chaired ICC is also utilizing different evidence-based and relationship-based tools to find measurable results as they pertain to social-emotional development in young children.
One of these tools is a screening service called Ages & Stages, which involves parent questionnaires molded from nearly four decades of research and user feedback. The questionnaires ask parents what normal development and behavior they expect from their infants at various stages between birth and 3 years old. If there is a concern, Ages & Stages provides parents with resources for follow-up care, monitoring or further assessment.
Poulsen has taught as a professor of clinical pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and has served on the ICC since 1995 before becoming the group’s chair last month. Her work champions the needs of children suffering from developmental disabilities, chronic illness, maternal depression, out-of-home placement, domestic violence and the stresses of poverty.
“Those who have worked with Dr. Poulsen have long known of her leadership in early childhood intervention and infant mental health, and how deserving she is of this appointment,” said Dr. Robert Jacobs, head of general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “There is no one better suited to lead the ICC at this critical juncture to advocate for, and assist in developing, this next generation of services and community support for young children and their families.”
Additional agendas for Poulsen and the ICC include reaching underserved families who may be unable to benefit from health systems as a result of poverty.
“We want to be sure that every baby in California who has a delay, a disability or is at-risk due to biomedical factors has access and is receiving services,” Poulsen said.
“Children’s Hospital is a hospital for the whole county — especially for children with special health care needs — and has contributed significantly to the well-being of children not only of Pasadena, where I live, but throughout the county.”

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