New Reports Describe State’s Early Intervention System for Infants and Toddlers

By Alexandra Parma

Senior Policy Research Associate

When the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities was enacted in 1986 under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the vision was to ensure that infants and toddlers had access to statewide, comprehensive, multidisciplinary, family-centered services to support their development. For almost four decades, California’s early intervention program, Early Start, has delivered critical services to young children with developmental delays and disabilities. Because Early Start intervenes during the early childhood period of rapid brain development, it supports the foundation for all learning, behavior, and health that follows.

Despite the importance and history of these services in our state, some parents do not know they exist, and those that do can experience access challenges while navigating our complex early childhood service delivery systems. In fact, California lags behind many other states in reaching infants and toddlers through early intervention. Furthermore, there are racial/ethnic disparities in access and per capita spending for Early Start services. These realities have far-reaching implications on both the well-being of children and costs to our education and health care systems.

To date, advocates, policymakers, families, and other stakeholders have had few resources to understand how early intervention services work in California. To support filling this gap, California Budget and Policy Center released two new reports. The first breaks down what early intervention services are, who provides such services, and how these services are funded. The second explores opportunities for program improvement. Support for these reports was provided in part by the First 5 Center for Children's Policy.

  1. Understanding How Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities or Developmental Delays Receive Support
  2. California Can Better Support Infants & Toddlers with Disabilities or Developmental Delays

Although the 2022-2023 California state budget made a number of historic changes to Early Start that will improve our ability to meet the developmental needs of infants and toddlers, there are additional steps required to reach equity and access goals. For example, local community systems of screening and referral need to be strengthened to ensure that all children who are eligible for early intervention are identified and connected to the right supports. The California Budget and Policy Center reports help the field consider the additional policy and systems changes needed to realize sufficient service delivery for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities.

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