Early intervention

First, some quick background. The federal Early Intervention Program provides services to children under the age of 3 who have developmental delays or are at risk for delays and disabilities. (It falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, Part C.) State involvement is not mandatory, but all states participate.

But are eligible infants and toddlers getting all the services they need? I don’t think you need me to answer that. In New York alone, as Chalkbeat reported back in March, early intervention services aren’t reaching a whopping 42% of those eligible.

This week, three news sites focused on the program and its challenges in three different yet connected ways.

ABCnews.com has a helpful bird’s-eye view on a system “plagued by chronic staffing shortages” and long wait times for proven therapies. Many who enroll, it notes, age out before receiving any services at all. “Almost all states reported Early Intervention provider shortages in 2022, and federal officials say they are still struggling to find staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities,” the report says. In Illinois, for instance, service delays nearly doubled in 2022.

There are not only delays, there are disparities in who receives services. That’s according to a survey released this week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found there’s not enough pre-enrollment data to help Early Intervention Programs reach those who are eligible. This missing data, reports K12dive.com, may be able to help reduce disparities in early interventions.

Researchers, for instance, found that 86% of Asian children advanced from referral to an evaluation, while only 59% of American Indian or Alaska native children did. For Black or African American young children it was 75% and for both Hispanic or Latino and White children, it was 81%.

In what seems like good news, Tennessee is first out of the gate with a state extension of early intervention services until enrolled participants reach school age, specifically the beginning of the school year following the child’s fifth birthday. It’s “the top age range” allowed for early intervention services through IDEA.

A side note: School districts are required to take over special ed needs when a child is age 3, but many are not well equipped to do so. They face many of the same challenges as early intervention programs, such as staffing shortages and other painful problems.

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