Katherine (Katy) Neas, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Education
Sherry Lachman, Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance and Labor, White House Office of Management and Budget
Bert Wyman, Program Examiner, White House Office of Management and Budget
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to improving the lives of young children with disabilities and their families. We are working to ensure that every child who needs individualized and high-quality early intervention services receives them as early as possible. We have called on Congress to double funding for these services and we have made strategic investments to expand the number of early intervention providers, including in underserved communities. We are also developing user-friendly resources and technical assistance on expanding access to early intervention for early childhood state and local administrators and service providers, families, and advocates. As part of this effort, on December 14, the Department of Education, in partnership with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, hosted a webinar where we released informational guides for early childhood stakeholders to promote innovative and effective strategies for identifying and serving all children eligible for early intervention services.
Connecting the families of children with disabilities to services as early as possible is critical because the rapid period of brain growth during a child’s first few years of life provides a unique window to support the child’s development. Numerous studies have shown that early intervention services have enormously positive effects on children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. Furthermore, research shows that children receiving early intervention need fewer special education services when they enter elementary school. That is why these services are cost-effective. They generate savings for families and school districts by improving the physical and cognitive outcomes of children, which lowers spending on their special education and health needs over the long term.
While the research is compelling, the stories of families most powerfully illustrate the benefits of early intervention.
A Beneficiary of Early Intervention Services Helps Other Military Families Support Their Children with Disabilities
Dee Bosworth is passionate about supporting military parents of children with special needs. As a Specialized Training of Military Parents Instructor for a program of Washington State’s Parent Information Center for families of children with disabilities, she helps parents within all branches of the uniformed services understand their rights and how to advocate for the services their children need to thrive. Dee’s passion stems from her own experience as a military spouse with a child diagnosed with Autism who benefited from early intervention services.
Dee explains, “Military families with exceptional needs face unique challenges — deployments and long separations, last minute notification of mobilization and limited communication with co-parents. This combination of experiences can leave us feeling isolated. Civilians encountering some of these challenges might reach out to family, but we are an island living hours and days from our relatives who are unfamiliar with our way of life.”
Early intervention provided Dee’s family with community and support tailored to the specific needs of her family. Dee notes, “The infant and toddler developmental specialist assigned to our case helped connect me with resources for parent support and training … and practical tips that I could easily implement with or without my husband at home.” For example, Dee’s son’s speech therapist encouraged his parents to use storytelling and labeling to improve his vocabulary and communication skills. While he was deployed, Dee’s husband used a distance program developed specifically for parents in the military to record himself reading stories that his son could listen to while they were separated.
Congress recognized the value of expanding access to these services when it established the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C Grants for Infants and Families program (Part C) in 1986. Part C provides funding to states to offer early intervention services to children ages birth through two with disabilities and their families and requires States to identify and serve all eligible children.
However, many infants and toddlers who should receive early intervention services never do. One study found that only 5 percent of children eligible for early intervention actually received services. Moreover, children living in rural areas, low-income children, and children of color receive early intervention services at significantly lower rates than their peers.
Many states report that fiscal constraints and staffing shortages limit their ability to expand access to Part C as well as their capacity to serve children in the program effectively. In response, the Administration has called on Congress to double funding for Part C. The Administration has also awarded millions of dollars from the IDEA Personnel Preparation and State Personnel Development Grant programs to recruit, train, and retain early intervention providers.
Increasing the Capacity of Early Childhood Personnel
To ensure relevant personnel, including early intervention providers, have the skills to meet the diverse needs of children and families, the Department of Education awarded almost $57 million in grants this past fall to support the professional development of personnel who provide services for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities. For example, the Department awarded Pennsylvania $8 million to provide intensive professional development and coaching to early intervention providers to help them improve school-readiness and family engagement outcomes, particularly for children and families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Similarly, the Department awarded Alabama $6 million to provide professional development to early intervention providers on supporting seamless transitions of children and families out of IDEA Part C when children turn three and exit the system.
The Administration is especially working to address the challenges faced by underserved children, including children of color, children living in rural areas, and low-income children, who have historically received early intervention services at lower rates than their peers. Research shows these gaps are driven by a variety of factors, including disparities in access to pediatric care, societal biases, and the inadequate availability of transportation and telehealth services. In tandem with the President’s request to Congress for additional funding to increase access to Part C, the Administration has urged Congress to authorize the Department of Education to collect and analyze data from states on these service rate gaps and to require states to develop plans to close these gaps using a portion of their Part C funds. The Administration has also called on Congress to eliminate specific barriers that prevent underserved families from accessing the Part C program, such as the fees even low-income families have to pay for early intervention services in many states.
Finally, the Department of Education is using its current funds to invest in efforts to expand access to early intervention services for underserved families. For example, the Department of Education has invested in training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to increase the number of early intervention providers in communities of color. The Department has also funded a technical assistance center that will support states in implementing evidence-based strategies for conducting outreach to families typically underserved by Part C programs, such as by employing culturally and linguistically responsive practices.
Increasing the Diversity of Early Intervention Personnel
While half of young children with disabilities are children of color, less than 40 percent of graduate students learning to serve children with disabilities in Department of Education-funded training programs are Black, Hispanic or Asian. To increase the diversity of early intervention providers, the Department recently awarded $4 million to early intervention training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. For example, the Department awarded Bowie State University $1 million to launch the Early Childhood Development Institute, which will prepare early childhood special educators from underrepresented groups to support children with disabilities who are English language learners. The Department also awarded California State University — Northridge $1 million to train early intervention providers from underrepresented groups on how to employ culturally responsive evidence-based practices to address the needs of children who are dual language learners and from low-income families.
In addition to its policy and grant work, the Department is currently developing a series of new technical assistance guides that will include case studies and examples on how to implement effective practices to identify, evaluate, and serve infants and toddlers with disabilities. In developing this series, the Department and its federal partners consulted and learned from state and local leaders, early intervention providers, families, and advocates across the country who have developed innovative strategies to increase access to early intervention.
On December 14, the Department of Education, in partnership with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, hosted a webinar where it released and discussed the first guides in this series. These guides focus on strategies to increase outreach to families typically underserved by IDEA Part C and improve the screening and referral process for these families, which is a critical component of determining eligibility for Part C. During the webinar, participants were able to hear directly from leaders of state IDEA Part C agencies and families about their states’ implementation of these strategies and the impact of these efforts.
We invited all IDEA Part C administrators, early intervention providers, advocates, families, and others in the early childhood disability community to attend the webinar. A recording of the Webinar and copies of the implementation guides now are, posted on the OSEP IDEAs that Work and the IDEA websites.
Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.