A Brief Overview
- The right help can be critical for infants and toddlers with disabilities and/or developmental delays. This article covers early learning basics for Washington families.
- Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the process for states to provide services to any child with an area of delay.
- A website called Parent Help 123 provides questionnaires and tools to assess child development based on milestones that are part of everyday moments.
- Families concerned about a child’s development can call the state’s Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588. This toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.
- No special education or early intervention rights are waived due to circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New parents may struggle to know whether their child’s growth and development are on track. They may have a feeling that a milestone is getting missed, or they may observe siblings or other children learning and developing more quickly. Sometimes a parent just needs reassurance. Other times, a child has a developmental delay or a disability. In those cases, early interventions can be critical for lifelong learning and skill building.
In Washington, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) administers services for eligible children from birth to age 3 through Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT). Families can contact ESIT directly, or they can reach out to their local school district to request an evaluation to determine eligibility and consider what support a child might need. The ESIT website includes videos to guide family caregivers and a collection of Parent Rights and Leadership resources, with multiple language options.
Children who qualify receive services through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Early learning programs are designed to enable success in the child’s natural environment, which might be the home and/or a childcare or preschool setting.
The right to early intervention services is guaranteed by Part C of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part B of the IDEA protects an eligible school-age student’s right to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and Part A includes general guidance about the rights of children 0-21 with disabilities.
Family caregivers, childcare professionals, teachers, or anyone else can refer a child for an early learning evaluation if there is reason to suspect that a disability or developmental delay may be impacting the child’s growth and progress. The school district’s duty to seek out, evaluate and potentially serve infants, toddlers or school-aged students with known or suspected disabilities is guaranteed through the IDEA’s Child Find Mandate.
First Step: Evaluate to determine eligibility
After a referral is accepted, a team of professionals uses standardized tools and observations to evaluate a child’s development in five areas:
- Physical: Reaching for and grasping toys, crawling, walking, jumping
- Cognitive: Watching activities, following simple directions, problem-solving
- Social-emotional: Making needs known, initiating games, starting to take turns
- Communication: Vocalizing, babbling, using two- to three-word phrases
- Adaptive: Holding a bottle, eating with fingers, getting dressed
A child is eligible for services if the evaluation result shows that the child has a 25% percent delay or if a statistical measure shows a 1.5 standard deviation below measures of typically developing same-age peers. A child may also be eligible if diagnosed with a specific physical or mental condition, such as Down Syndrome, that is known to cause a delay in development.
Next Step: Develop a service plan
Services are designed to meet the child’s individual needs. Options might include, but are not limited to:
- Assistive technology (devices a child might need)
- Audiology or hearing services
- Speech and language services
- Counseling and training for a family
- Medical services
- Nursing services
- Nutrition services
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Psychological services
Services are typically provided in the child’s home or other natural environment, such as daycare. They also can be offered in a medical hospital, a clinic, a school, or another community space.
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): What is the plan?
The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a whole family plan, with the child’s primary caregivers as major contributors to its development and implementation. The custodial caregivers must provide written consent for services to begin.
The IFSP team always includes:
- Parents/Caregivers and anyone else the primary caregivers request to participate
- A Family Resource Coordinator (FRC)
- Professionals directly involved in evaluations or assessments of the child
- Providers of early intervention services for the child and family
- Depending on the child’s needs, the IFSP team might also include:
- Medical practitioner
- Child development specialist
- Social worker
The IFSP establishes goals, or outcomes, that the team identifies based on the evaluation, family concerns, and other input. Services are identified to support the child and family in reaching those outcomes. The plan is reviewed every 6 months and includes these elements:
- The child’s present levels of development in each of the five areas: physical, cognitive, communication, social/emotional, and adaptive
- Identified needs
- Family caregiver agreement and information about available resources, priorities, and concerns
- The major results or outcomes expected to be achieved by child and family
- Specific services the child will receive and where/when
- Payment source for the services
- Name and contact information for the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC)
- Steps to support the child’s transition out of early intervention by age 3, a process that begins by age 2.5. PAVE has an article with more detail: Early Learning Transition: When Bith-3 Services End.
- Family support, such as parenting tips or financial guidance
Cost of Services
Washington State provides most early learning services at no cost to families of eligible children. Some services covered by insurance are billed to a child’s health insurance provider, with the signed consent of a family caregiver.
Part C of the IDEA requires states to provide the following services at no cost to families: Child Find (outreach and evaluation), assessments, IFSP development and review, service coordination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) manages a campaign to Learn the Signs. Act Early. The website includes tools for tracking milestones and materials for families to learn more and plan home-based activities to promote skill development.
“Early intervention services can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities,” the CDC states. “Help your child, help your family!”
The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CIPR—ParentCenterHub.org) provides an Overview of Early intervention.
The US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides funding for the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ectacenter.org), based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The center builds state and local capacity to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families.
PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff provide information, training, resources, and technical assistance to help family caregivers, students and professionals understand rights and responsibilities within education systems, including those for early learning. For support, complete an online help request at wapave.org or leave a message at the helpline: 1-800-572-7368/press 115.