A Trailblazer in Early Childhood Intervention


Category: News

August 16, 2019

Forty years ago, Any Baby Can began as CEDEN (Center for Development, Education and Nutrition) Child and Family Resource Center. Our inaugural direction was boldly led by Dr. Emily Vargas-Barón, a trailblazer in early childhood intervention and education. We had the pleasure of inviting Dr. Vargas-Baron to join us in Austin as part of our 40th anniversary celebration. During our Benefit Concert in May, she said she was “filled with pride and moved to tears” because Any Baby Can exhibits the same high-level of commitment to families as it did 40 years ago and the Austin community is still dedicated to supporting our services.

“Any Baby Can still embodies the same passion and highly-skilled services. The staff is caring and dedicated,” says Dr. Vargas-Barón.

Prior to moving to Austin in 1979, Dr. Vargas-Barón began her career as an international educational planner at UNESCO in Paris, France. Subsequently she joined The Ford Foundation Office for Colombia and Venezuela in Bogota, Colombia where she helped design the first international study on the effects of health, nutrition and child development on improving the development of stunted infants and young children living in severe poverty in Bogota, Colombia. This study confirmed the importance of providing early childhood intervention well before school age and led to the development of thousands of early childhood programs in Colombia.

In 1979, Dr. Vargas-Barón brought early childhood intervention (ECI) to Austin, making it one of the first cities in the United States (and the world) to offer ECI services, even before the program existed at the national level. Dr. Vargas-Barón designed and developed the home-based model that we still use at Any Baby Can.

She knows intimately the value of early childhood intervention. In the early days of CEDEN/Any Baby Can, she employed a “Child Find” model of identifying children that needed services and support. She once met a mother who had a 9-month-old child unable to turn over, sit up or lift his head. The baby was clean and fed, but his crib was in a room with no stimulation. Mom knew little about child development but was loving and she wanted to support her child as much as she could. Dr. Vargas-Barón began providing services in the home where she not only worked with the baby directly, but also taught mom how to do stimulating activities with her child. Less than a year later, the child had reached all developmental milestones and later on she learned that he had successfully graduated from high school.

Although our Child Find methodologies have evolved, Dr. Vargas-Barón affirmed, “our commitment to working on a whole family’s well-being has not wavered.” Any Baby Can follows many of the best practices in child development and is informed by international research on education planning and program development. She stated that key components of successful child development and early intervention programs include:

  1. High-quality services based on national research with a focus on workforce development, supervisory services, and monitoring and evaluation of all services.
  2. Comprehensive services that range from prenatal education and care to early childhood development, parent education, and child and family mental health.
  3. Culturally appropriate services that are provided in a family’s home language and with sensitivity to unique family needs.
  4. Community-based services that provide programming and connections within a community, and then deliberately expand to outlying communities with the greatest needs.

To deliver the best outcomes, we’re committed to working with highly qualified staff, collaborating with medical professionals, and partnering with community organizations in order to foster the development of a strong society. Dr. Vargas-Barón noted that Any Baby Can has always provided high-quality services and has been dedicated to the people we serve.

“Any Baby Can performs a huge service to the community and without our programs we’d see many more social problems,” says Dr. Vargas-Barón. “Any Baby Can employs some of the best early interventionists I have seen and worked with, including Alexandra Alfau and Ruth Wells who teaches parenting classes.”

Currently, Dr. Vargas-Barón directs the RISE Institute, which is based in Washington, DC and Bogota, Colombia and works with many nations as well as with UNICEF, World Bank, UNESCO, WHO and Open Society Foundation. She has consulted in 98 countries, focusing on helping them develop their national policies, plans and programs for ECD and ECI. RISE Institute has 35 Senior Fellows and Fellows who provide services and conducts research in many countries each year.


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