Developmental Screenings & Intervention
Early intervention services have big payoffs for children’s development and school readiness. Many infants and toddlers who are identified with developmental delays or disabilities and receive formal early intervention show improved social and cognitive skills – key components of school readiness – and higher academic achievement than those who don’t get services. One study reported that one-third of infants and toddlers who received early intervention did not require additional intervention upon entering elementary school.
All infants and toddlers should get routine developmental and behavioral screenings as part of well-child care. Yet only 29% of California parents report their infants and toddlers received developmental screenings during health care visits.
If all 1.5 million California children birth to three years old got the recommended screenings, an estimated 166,000 (11%) would need referrals for further assessment, and might need more intensive support. But Early Start, the state’s early intervention program for the highest-need kids, only serves about 20% (less than 35,000) of California kids in need.
Getting kids the help they need can be challenging for parents, and referral services, such as Help Me Grow, can help connect families with community-based supports. In one study of Help Me Grow in Alameda County, the majority of parents felt they had a better understanding of their child’s development (93%), and more connections to services (95%) due to support from Help Me Grow.
Pro-Kid® Policy Agenda
California should ensure all infants and toddlers get routine developmental and behavioral screenings, and support pediatricians, other health care providers and early childhood experts in monitoring children’s development. When kids need intervention, the state should work to guarantee timely, high-quality systems that assess and treat young children, coordinate services and engage and support parents and caregivers in their children’s treatment.
Three factors prevent California’s infants and toddlers from getting necessary early intervention services. First, routine developmental and behavioral screenings aren’t happening for all young kids. Second, there’s a shortage of specialized early intervention services. Third, the complexity of the system is difficult for families to navigate. Recognizing this reality, 38 state legislators pressured the California Health and Human Services Agency to improve the quality and accessibility of developmental and behavioral screenings and the subsequent referral process. The Legislature also unanimously passed a resolution declaring the state’s commitment to early intervention and setting the stage for new policies to ensure all California kids get the screenings and supports they need to thrive. In recent state budgets, there have been modest re-investments, like the reversal of a 2009 cut to the Early Start program. Still, a stronger collective effort at state, local and federal levels is needed.