Developmental and behavioral screenings for infants and toddlers are recommended to identify issues early on. Screenings enable better coordinated and more effective early intervention services for the young children and families that need them.
Developmental screenings are critically important for identifying delays or disabilities early in their onset. However, California is failing to identify kids in need of early intervention services. Within 1 year, 72% or 1.7 million of California’s youngest children did not receive any of the developmental screenings that are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Developmental screenings are essential to identify and inform decisions regarding the need for further evaluation to ensure children and their families receive necessary early intervention services. For example, young children needing mental health services were 54% more likely to get those services if they received a developmental screening.
Investment in developmental screenings and early intervention has long-term benefits, such as improvements in children’s school readiness and academic success. Early Start, California’s state and federally funded early intervention program, found 66% of the infants and toddlers in the program met age level expectations in social and emotional skills by the time they exited the program. Furthermore, identifying developmental delays early can save up to $203,000 in treatment costs per child, ages 3-22. For example, every $1 spent on providing an autistic child with intensive early intervention services
saves roughly $6 in future care costs.
California should ensure all young children receive age-appropriate developmental and behavioral screenings and that there is a system in place to assist families and pediatricians in coordinating any necessary followup referral, treatment or other early intervention needs. California should dramatically expand funding for early intervention services and keep out-ofpocket costs low so that families of young children with developmental delays can get the services and supports they need.
Local investments in developmental screenings and follow-up intervention service referrals, such as those provided by First 5s, Help Me Grow and 2-1-1 LA, provide a strong foundation on which to build a universal developmental screening program. Likewise, the Statewide Screening Collaborative provides a useful forum for state agencies and other stakeholders to build networks, share information and pursue common strategies.
Unfortunately, California’s Early Start program has had to significantly reduce services for infants and toddlers and their families due to the recent state budget crisis.
Federal health care reform illustrates the federal government’s commitment to prevention in health care, and the state has a unique opportunity to enforce federal provisions that require certain preventive services, including developmental screenings for young children, be provided at no cost to patients.