Early Intervention: How to Access Services for Children Birth to 3 in Washington

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.

Full Article

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:

  1. Physical: Reaching for and grasping toys, crawling, walking, jumping
  2. Cognitive: Watching activities, following simple directions, problem-solving
  3. Social-emotional: Making needs known, initiating games, starting to take turns
  4. Communication: Vocalizing, babbling, using two- to three-word phrases
  5. 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
  • Therapist
  • 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!”

Additional Resources

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.

Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) ends when a child turns 3. A transition to a preschool plan with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires a new evaluation and is a team-led process:

Planning begins 6-9 months before the third birthday.

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) schedules a transition conference to design a written Transition Plan.
  • The transition includes an evaluation that is conducted by the local school district and usually begins 2-3 months before the child’s third birthday.
  • If the child is determined eligible, the child will transition from a family-centered program of early learning (IFSP) into a school-based program (IEP).
  • Parent participation is critical: You are an important member of the transition planning team!

To qualify for an IEP, the child must meet evaluation criteria under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Criteria for Birth-3 services (Part C of the IDEA) are slightly different than the criteria for Special Education programming available for ages 3-21 (Part B of the IDEA).

To qualify for an IEP: (1) The student is determined to have a qualifying disability.  (2) The disability adversely impacts education. (3) The evaluation indicates a need for specially designed instruction.

Differences in Eligibility

IDEA Part C
(Also called Early Intervention -IFSP)

IDEA Part B
(Also called Special Education – IEP)
25% or 1.5 SD (Standard Deviation) Below the mean in one area of development – OR-2 SD (Standard Deviation ) below the mean in one or more areas of development – OR –
Diagnosed physical or medical condition that has a high probability of resulting in delay 1.5 SD below the mean in two or more areas of development

Qualifying Disability Categories for IEP:

  • Developmental Delay (ages 3-8)
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Deafness
  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

A child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP:

  • May qualify for a Section 504 plan, which provides accommodations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when:
    • The disability significantly limits one or more major life activities.
    • The student needs accommodations to access the general education curriculum.
  • May qualify for other services like Head Start, co-operative pre-school, paid pre-school or day care with early achievers, play-to-learn programs, and other early learning opportunities in a community setting.

Use this checklist to help track your family’s transition steps:

6-9 months before the child’s third birthday:

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) starts talking about transition.
  • The FRC transmits your child’s records to the school system, with your written consent. The most recent IFSP and evaluations/assessments are included.
  • If your child is potentially eligible for Part B services, a transition conference is scheduled.
  • Community resources are located.

Transition Conference:

  • Parent’s rights in special education are explained.
  • Options for early childhood special education and other appropriate services are discussed.
  • A transition time line is developed.
  • A transition plan is written into the IFSP.

Evaluation:

  • If you agree, you sign consent for evaluation.
  • Records from Early Intervention Services are received at the school.
  • Information from the family is considered.
  • Evaluation is completed, and the eligibility meeting is held within 35 school days so that an IEP can be developed before the child’s third birthday.

IEP Meeting:

  • The IEP meeting is scheduled with a formal written invitation with date, time and location.
  • Discussion and decision-making include the family, the FRC (with parent permission), and an early childhood special education staff member.
  • Eligibility for special education is decided.
  • If the child is eligible, the Draft IEP is brought to the team meeting and you will have the opportunity to agree or disagree.
  • You receive a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards.
  • If you agree, you sign consent for services to begin.

The IEP in action:

  • The child makes the transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education or another pre-kindergarten arrangement, if chosen.
  • The IEP is in place by our child’s third birthday.
  • The team of professionals and parents continue working together to resolve any issues that arise.
  • All IEP team members communicate during this time of change.

What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3?

A Brief Overview

  • Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. Families are served with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). An IFSP ends when the child turns 3.
  • A child who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) receives those services at school. Not all children who qualified for an IFSP will quality for an IEP. An IEP is for children ages 3-21, or until high-school graduation.
  • Families may transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of an IEP team. This can feel like a big change. The information in this article can empower parents.
  • Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating early about what the child might need to do well.
  • Read on to learn what parents need to know when a young child with special needs makes the transition from Birth-3 services into preschool or another program.
  • A parent-support agency called Informing Families provides a 12-minute video to guide parents through the early-learning transition process. 

Full Article

When a child is born with a disability or the family realizes early that an impairment might impact a young child’s ability to learn and develop at a typical rate, the family can get help from the state. Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) is managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. When a child is ready to graduate from those early-learning services, the school district determines whether to conduct an educational evaluation to see whether the child qualifies for school-based services. If a child qualifies, the family and school district work together to generate an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can begin at age 3 in preschool.

A child who qualifies for an IEP receives those services at school. Families transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of the IEP team. The goals change, and parents help teachers and school staff talk about what the child needs to successfully access school and learning. This transition can be disorienting to some families. Read on for more detail.

Early Intervention can start from birth

Early intervention services are guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under “Part C” of the IDEA. The U.S. Department of Education manages a federal grant program under the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that helps states manage early intervention programs to support infants and young children and their families.

Part C services are available for infants and young children who:

  1. Experience developmental delays, which are medically diagnosed to impact cognitive, physical, communication, social-emotional and/or adaptive skills
  2. Have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay

Washington’s ESIT program assigns agencies in each county to serve as a “lead agency” to coordinate early learning services and testing. The lead agency works with service providers and the family to review a child’s medical record, discuss any observations by caregivers, and conduct screenings to see what’s going on and whether the issues of concern meet criteria under Part C for early intervention. 

When a child is found eligible for services, a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) manages the case. The FRC helps to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Each plan is unique and may involve individualized instruction, therapy services and supported access to community resources. The plan is designed around the needs of the child and family and is not based on a predetermined program model.

Family-based, early learning services end on the child’s third birthday. A new educational evaluation is required to see whether the student qualifies for an IEP under “Part B” of the IDEA.

Part B services are available for children ages 3-21 (or until high-school graduation) who:

  1. Have a qualifying disability in at least one of 14 federal qualifying categories
  2. Are significantly affected by that disability at school (“Significant Educational Impact” is determined with evidence and data)
  3. Require specialized instruction to overcome the barriers of that disabling condition

To qualify for an IEP under the IDEA, a student meets criteria in one of 14 disability categories

Autism

Deaf-blindness

Deafness

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech / Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment/Blindness

Developmental Delay (ages 0-8)

 

Note that the disability category of developmental delay can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based, IEP services through age 8.

Helpers get creative during “Part C-to-B Transition” planning

The FRC helps the family and school district get ready. Often this is referred to as “Part C-to-B Transition” planning, so it’s helpful when families understand that Parts C and B come from federal law, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), designed to ensure that children with disabilities get the help they need to be successful at school and prepared for life.

For families who have received services through the state’s early-learning program (ESIT), Part C-to-B Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating about what the child might need to do well. The work includes a “Transition Planning Conference,” which happens about 90 days before a child turns 3. The participants at this meeting write a plan for what services or community supports the child might receive. 

Each plan is unique and designed to respond to individual needs. A child’s plan might indicate need for a specific child-care setting or medical-based therapies. The plan might include a referral to a specific, state-funded special-education preschool program through Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP, pronounced “E-Cap”). A transition plan also can name local playgroups or parent-support networks to connect the family to community resources. If a child’s educational evaluation has determined that the child is eligible for an IEP, then information about that is included.

Not all children who qualified for early-learning support will qualify for an IEP. Children who are not eligible for IEP services might be eligible to receive accommodations and support through a Section 504 Plan.

Early learning isn’t the only pathway to an IEP evaluation

Children who didn’t receive early-learning interventions can also be evaluated to determine whether they qualify for school-based services that can start as young as age 3 and can continue through age 21, or until a student graduates from high school.

Anyone with concerns about a child can refer the child for an educational evaluation. These referrals usually come from parents, teachers, medical providers or early-learning specialists. When a concerned adult formally requests an evaluation from the school district (best-practice is to make the request in writing), then the district is bound by the IDEA to respond to that request within 25 school days. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about the evaluation process.

The school district has a responsibility under the Child Find mandate of the IDEA to seek out and evaluate children with known or suspected disabilities who may need services. 

When a school district agrees to evaluate, parents sign consent for the assessments to begin. The IDEA requires schools to complete an evaluation within 35 school days. For a child receiving early-learning services, the first IEP meeting is required on or before the child’s third birthday.

Families may invite whomever they want to an IEP meeting. For example, they can invite the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC), a family member, a friend or any other support person. 

If the school district does not conduct an educational evaluation, or if the evaluation indicates that the child doesn’t qualify for school-based, IEP services, parents have the right to disagree with the school’s decision. The family can request a written statement that describes the school district’s position, with any information or data that was used to justify the decision.

Parents have rights to disagree through a variety of dispute engagement options. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation, IEP process and Procedural Safeguards, Student and Parent Rights.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center provides technical assistance and can help parents understand how to participate in their child’s learning. Got to: wapave.org/get-help or call (253) 565-2266, 1-800-5-PARENT ext.115

The Arc of Washington hosts local Parent-to-Parent (P2P) programs across the state. Families can request a “support parent match” to talk with another parent who has already navigated this process. Visit Arcwa.org for more information.

Additional Resources:
Informing Families – informingfamilies.org
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – k12.wa.gov   
OSPI Early Childhood services –  k12.wa.us/Specialeducation/earlychildhood
Early Intervention Resources in English and Spanish – ParentCenterHub.org
Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families – dcyf.wa.gov

If you are concerned about a child’s development: