BabyTalk Tele-Therapy & Parent Coaching

What if parents of physically and developmentally challenged children could get support and therapy for their child without leaving home?

Photo of Meg Seibert
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Five years ago, our Executive Director, Kathleen Sussman, described the difficulties families with profoundly deaf children were having to Dr. Blevens, a Stanford surgeon who was on the Weingarten Center Board of Directors. Parents were missing appointments for their advocacy and parent coaching sessions, and their children were missing out on critically needed speech and occupational therapy. Families were bearing the burden of enormous hurdles and travel costs that discouraged them from keeping their appointments. Many families had no overnight childcare available for their other children, and could not afford the hotel and other costs associated with traveling to the Center with their entire families. Most families live in rural and isolated areas, hundreds of miles from services. The majority of parents held jobs and could not take days off on an ongoing basis just to keep one appointment per week. More discussions took place at a Board retreat after Mrs. Sussman had investigated new advancements in tele-therapy. Stanford Medical School offered the infrastructure and the Weingarten Center supplied therapists and a social worker to deliver parent coaching and therapy through the internet using iPads and FaceTime, where for the first time, parents and whole families could receive support without leaving their homes. This program has implication for replication across many child and parenting issues, and potential savings to the school system of hundreds of millions.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Redwood City

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Orland CA, McKinleyville CA, Bakersfield CA, Lost Hills CA, Arvin CA, Wasco CA, Hanford CA, Susanville CA, Mariposa CA, Madera CA, Fresno CA, Mill Valley CA, Merced CA, Salinas CA, Greenfield CA, Castroville CA, Riverside CA, Felton CA, Watsonville CA, Visalia CA, Orosi CA, Portervile CA, Dinuba CA, Reno NV.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Approximately 3 in 1000 children in the US are born with significant hearing loss. Hearing aids and cochlear implants, applied very early along with substantial counseling, rehab and educational services over the first 3 years can enable speech and language skills rivaling those of children with normal hearing. Consistent access to these services is often limited for children living significant distances from large metropolitan areas or of low SES. These same barriers exist for children with various developmental and sensory-motor integration issues, and for parents with low educational attainment who need coaching in order to raise children who thrive, have a strong sense of self, resilience and wellbeing.

Our early data show that parent coaching via the internet using iPads and FaceTime can improve the quality of the parent-child communicative relationship, and improve early learning and developmental outcomes for low SES children and children with below average language acquisition.  50% of our clients are Spanish-speaking, and 75% are low SES families.  Studies have shown that the quality and magnitude of language (including number of words spoken) in the home is highly associated with language development in children (Hart & Risley 1995; Hoff 2003; Pan et al 2005, Hoff 2006).  Using tele-coaching interventions for improving language acquisition in the home environment is a promising and innovative aspect of our program.  Strong language skills are linked to successful academic and social outcomes and have a broad positive impact on a child's life.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Education
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Special Education, Early Start, Head Start

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Once a week, inside the 142 sq ft apartment he shares with his parents and two sibs in a rural CA town, Dylan has a standing appt with an iPad. "I am making corns, " the 2 year-old explains. His attempt to make "corn" plural excites his therapist, who is watching and listening from her computer at WCC. The therapist helps the parents identify "teachable moments", and helps the parents improvise with objects in their homes. She walks the parents through examples of conversations they can have in the kitchen. Together they all practice speaking and sing a song. For families that are poor and in rural areas, the school and medical system are daunting. Their therapist is training them to be their own advocates, acting as a lifeline.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

To date we have served 100 children, with only 3 dropping out. We served 40 children last year. The primary outcome measure has been the LittleEars Questionnaire (LEQ), which examines pre-verbal auditory behavior and early auditory vocal behaviors. Prior to beginning BabyTalk, virtually all the children had LEQ scores that were 2 standard deviations poorer than the mean. After tele-sessions, all children improved from their baseline, 37% now demonstrate pre-verbal auditory behaviors within normal limits, and 43% scored above the 70% decile. Preliminary data and analyses are being run by the Stanford Ear Institute. A proposal by Dr. Matthew Fitzgerald in the Dept. of Otolaryngology, if funded, would utilize a LENA recording and analysis system to tell us how families can best support early language development of a child in the home setting. Future impact depends on funding.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Funding is in place for BabyTalk for 2016-17 through grants. However, medical insurance and schools currently are not reimbursing costs for the program. Policy and procedures are not in place to include BabyTalk as a covered service and they need to be developed. We believe that once Special Education departments review the data showing positive outcomes and realize the potential cost savings of tele-coaching in the home, change will occur.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

BabyTalk is currently the only program of its kind in California. Currently Early Start and Head Start providers drive long distances to physically visit rural families, which takes considerable time and entails a high cost to serve a small number of families. School districts are mandated to provide transportation for those in Special Education to receive equal services, which is a large percentage of their budget and a strain on families whose children spend many hours traveling each day. Considerable cost savings can be achieved through tele-coaching in the family home.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Using tele-coaching interventions for improving language acquisition in the home environment is a promising and innovative aspect of our program. Strong language skills are linked to successful academic and social outcomes and have a broad positive impact on a child's life. Travel costs currently borne by Early Start and Head Start providers would be reduced, as well as lifting the burden placed on families to travel long distances to receive the support they need to ensure their child's wellbeing.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Melissa Baralt

What a novel and wonderful way to provide low SES (and mostly Hispanic) families with language education and therapy for their deaf children. 'Telemedicina' is certainly an area to which you are contributing and teaching us all!  Thanks so much for sharing!  

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