UWF professor appointed to state Early Steps panel

The University of West Florida's Dr. Sara Evans. Photo credit: UWF.

Dr. Sara Evans, an assistant professor at the University of West Florida, has been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Florida Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers.

The state agency assists and advises the Early Steps program. Early Steps serves families of infants and toddlers who have developmental delays by providing individualized family support plans.

Funded through Department of Health grants, Early Steps has 14 regional offices in Northwest Florida. Operating under the Children Medical Services, Early Steps provides services from birth to age 3 for children with developmental disabilities, regardless of income.

In Escambia County, a staff of 20 serves more than 600 children. Eligibility is determined through a screening process. Early Steps coordinate with community agencies and other providers for the delivery of needed supports and services.

Evans, an assistant professor in the UWF Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, has studied childhood behavior since she began graduate school in 2005.

“This knowledge informs my ability to serve on this council,” Evans said. “I am also the parent of a child with Down syndrome who has been receiving services through the Pensacola Early Steps office for almost three years.

“I can provide a unique perspective as someone who has very recently worked with a local office in Florida.”

Evans will assist the Council by informing policy makers, legislators and service providers to improve the implementation and development of these services.

Her scholarly research in the area of child development will help put into context the broader influences that children using early intervention services are subject to, above and beyond any special needs they may have.

“Personally, this appointment is very meaningful because of my experience with our local early intervention office. We were very fortunate to have capable, kind and considerate people to work with in Pensacola, and I want to help assist the council in ensuring that all families across the state also have a positive experience,” Evans said.

Evans’ appointment is just one example of the work that faculty in criminology and criminal justice do to engage with the community and state at-large, she notes. Many other faculty members also serve in public service roles that help make this community a better place to live.

“Dr. Evans is passionate about early childhood development. She is hardworking, thoughtful and collaborative,” said Dr. Matthew Crow, department chairman. “Her appointment is an excellent example of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice’s commitment to community engagement and partnerships.”

Evans hopes that by serving on FICCIT, she can help to improve the care and efficiency of early intervention services across the state of Florida and make a positive impact in the lives of families who need these important services.