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Study Questions Early Intervention Eligibility Criteria

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Whether or not a child with developmental delays qualifies for early intervention varies dramatically from one state to the next, but often researchers say far more kids are eligible than can be served.

The finding comes from a new study analyzing early intervention services across the nation. Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine examined each state’s eligibility requirements for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, Part C program, which serves infants and toddlers with disabilities. Then they used data from a long-term government study tracking nearly 11,000 children to identify how many kids were likely to qualify or receive services in each state.

Across the country, anywhere from 2 percent to as many as 78 percent of children per state qualified for Part C services, according to the study published this month in the journal Pediatrics. But most of those children are not taking advantage of the early intervention offerings, however, with no state providing Part C services like speech and occupational therapy to more than 7 percent of its kids.

What’s more, even in cases where eligibility was more restricted, researchers found that far more children qualified for services than were receiving them suggesting that at least some kids in need are being overlooked, the study said.

Nationally, about 2.8 percent of young children are served by Part C.

“States need to look at the criteria they use to determine which infants and toddlers are eligible for early intervention. They need to ask themselves why they have such broad criteria when they can’t serve all children under 3 years who have severe developmental delays,” said Steven Rosenberg of the University of Colorado who led the study. “It may help for states to adopt more uniform eligibility criteria.”

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. Heather Hebdon says:

    I hope I misread this article at the end. It read as if the authors of the study are talking about making their eligibility criteria more restrictive. If there are children out there in need of services there are ____ things that need to be more closely reviewed. These include: 1) How frequently and to what degree are the school districts and EI State lead working with the local lead agencies to assure that Childfind activities are being provided on a greater basis; 2) We have found that typically, the families who weren’t taking advantage of these services are from more typically underserved and unserved communities who don’t participate because they may have language or culturasl basis, they live in a rural or have difficulty acquiring transportation to even get to the initial process, and/or the lack of those of color who are in the leadership roles that can help families feel comfortable with utilizing the services; 3) Supports that are legitimate and with whom families feel a level of personal experiences. Frequently families are met by “professionals” who have not had the experience of raising a child with disabilities. It is difficult to give credible information, at least in the eyes of a family, when they have not had the signficant changes occur in their lives that a child with disabilities can bring.

  2. Ann Marie Shrader, MS, MA, MEd, ITDS says:

    I disagree with the one and only poster since Early Steps/Intervention (Birth to age 3) does not involve the school district and not Child Find.
    I will say this, the researchers are way off base too. Since I have no access to their research I can not clarify why.
    I can say this: fewer qualified people are evaluating children. Many Early Steps programs have made eligibility more strenuous to qualifiy for services. Just to say that your child is “two standard deviations in at least two areas” really is a numbers game and not really looking at the “whole child” perspective.
    Want more? You will need to ask.

  3. Nancy R. says:

    I am an EI teacher and have been for several years and was previously an EI service coordinator for 9 years. Over the years, I have seen our state develop stricter eligibility guidelines as we do serve all the children who have been determined by the standards at any particular time to be eligible; however, with stricter eligibility guidelines, I am certain that we are missing some infants and toddlers who would have been served and deserve to be serve in past years. These are the children we see later in Part B programs who possibly would not need Part B had they received EI programs. I am very sad that these children are now having to wait for developmental services that perhaps would have been more appropriate and advantageous during the birth to 3 years.How frustrating it must be for the parents who find that their child was eligible to receive EI and then move to a state where they do not meet guidelines for the same services. I agree that there needs to be more uniform eligibility though I do not see that happening any time soon.

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