One in six children in the US faces a developmental disability or a disabling behavioral problem.
Disabilities can range from targeted skills, such as speech development, to social skills, such as behavioral and emotional issues. Children may have one or a combination of these disabilities; in a sample of 457 children, it was found that 11% required the services of three or more Early Intervention professionals.
Early Intervention refers to services provided to children who are not achieving developmental milestones between birth and age three. The Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities Program (Part C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was enacted in 1986 to fund the nationwide delivery of these services and mitigate developmental delays that put children at risk of poor physical, social, or emotional development.
Professional care providers, such as speech pathologists and occupational or physical therapists, deliver these services. They work with children and families to develop individualized family services plans that map out the services required and the intended child-centric outcomes. Outcomes should include educating the parent or caregiver about their child’s needs and rights and helping them build support systems and access community programs.
Early Intervention programs aim to identify children in need and provide additional care and support to help them reach the same milestones as their peers before starting preschool or kindergarten. Early Intervention is crucial for children with lifelong disabilities like Down syndrome or autism. Though they may not attain the same milestones as their peers, having the right care plan and providers can help affected parents and children lead the highest quality of life possible.
Research indicates the first three years of a child's life are crucial for their brain development because prior to age three, the brain’s neural circuits are most elastic and responsive to change. This means developmental services are likely to be more effective and less costly the earlier they begin.
The butterfly effect
Examining how Early Intervention overcomes developmental delays is crucial.
While Early Intervention services are limited to the first three years of age, the benefits long outlive the services. On average, children who receive Early Intervention with a speech-language pathologist achieve average speech and language scores by age five. Another study showed that children who received Early Intervention achieved standard language, reading, and writing scores by the age of 17, despite discontinuing care services in later years.
One-third of infants and toddlers who received Early Intervention services did not need special education later, highlighting the importance of early childhood development. Investing in Early Intervention can reduce the demand for services by qualified professionals and the associated cost of service delivery, as well as the emotional strain put on families with children with developmental needs, by a third.
Support services also become more expensive as the individual in need gets older. A study of the cumulative costs of special education from birth to 18 years of age found that intervention starting at birth resulted in lower expenditures over the course of childhood. Total costs of services begun at birth were approximately $37,000, compared with a total of $53,000 if services were not started until the age of six.
Beyond the immediate developmental achievements, Early Intervention services have several benefits.
Not only do children retain targeted skills, but successful care plan achievement and positive experiences in early years build a foundation for long-term success in education, the workplace, and the community.
Neglecting young children with developmental disabilities can adversely impact their educational advancement. If children are developmentally behind their peers by the time they reach kindergarten, they may feel isolated and frustrated, which further impedes learning and can lead to increased behavioral issues.
Consequently, they could face challenges within the school environment and may require additional support services in the K12 system, which are more expensive and less effective. The longer a child is behind, the more difficult it becomes to catch up. Even with K12 services, they may struggle to achieve the critical thinking and intellectual development necessary to graduate high school or continue post-secondary education.
A study investigated the long-term effects of an Early Intervention preschool class. 70% of individuals who received Early Intervention services at preschool were enrolled in higher education or held skilled jobs, compared to only 40% who did not receive such services beyond the preschool level. Furthermore, those who had Early Intervention were three times more likely to enroll in a college or university.
Investing in Early Intervention for children with developmental disabilities is crucial for a state's economic future. With one in six children affected by a developmental disability, this paints a disconcerting economic picture of a state’s future without the requisite investment into Early Intervention. Even if they don’t require expensive social services as adults, a limited education makes it less likely that they will be meaningfully or fully employed. And states cannot afford to have such a dearth of well-educated professionals.
Early Intervention is crucial to helping individuals reach the middle class by middle age. Limited access to services among lower income groups perpetuates generational poverty. Disadvantaged children with developmental disabilities who do not receive Early Intervention services face obstacles to achieving success and breaking out of poverty.
Developmental disabilities affect social and targeted skills alike. Many Early Intervention services focus on children with emotional or behavioral issues. Due to the brain’s adaptability, behavioral issues can be far more effectively dealt with at a young age, before patterns of behavior are fully established. Equally, if parents or caregivers are educated about managing their child’s needs, providing an environment in which the child will thrive becomes easier.
Compounded by improved education and employment opportunities, Early Intervention services are linked to lower crime and delinquency rates and reduced Social Safety Net program use. This leads to a healthier, happier state for all.
Equity and Early Intervention
Early Intervention services are cost-effective and yield better outcomes than services provided at a later age.
Early Intervention services have an enormous impact on both the directly affected children and families, and the wider community.
Yet, there is a large disparity between service demand and supply. In 2020, the United States provided Early Intervention services to 437,234 children; however, this is only 3.7% of children under age 3, when approximately 15% of children would benefit from obtaining services.
Within this disparity, there are several social factors that contribute to the inequity of services. Structural factors like service deserts in rural areas and insufficient oversight of service uptake contribute to lower rates of Early Intervention services for children in lower-income families and children of color, perpetuating poverty in those areas.
Inequity also stems from a lack of education and access. Many parents do not know the signs of developmental disabilities or are unaware of the services that may help their child and how to obtain them. They may not have the time or resources to research their options or undergo time-consuming application processes. Distrust of the healthcare system can be another barrier to certain groups seeking services before their child enters the school system.
The answer: family-centric, modern Early Intervention government services
Delivery of Early Intervention is hindered by fragmented and inefficient agency systems.
Early Intervention services must support families, case managers, and service providers. If the family portal, case management system, and service provider portal are not interconnected, data becomes siloed, and it is difficult to obtain a holistic view of service delivery.
Many systems comprise a patchwork of processes that only provide basic services, such as eligibility determination and invoice management. To effectively deliver Early Intervention services, states must invest in comprehensive, modern solutions that can holistically track a child’s progress, evaluate and measure the services’ success and outcomes, and support the child’s transition either out of special education or to subsequent services.
Studies indicate that when families are actively engaged in the service delivery process, they have a stronger sense of dedication to the services provided, which can lead to improved outcomes for the child. Family-centric features could include: a 24/7 virtual assistant to help families find the correct resources; ability to conduct self-referrals and eligibility checks; e-sign consent forms; ability to schedule appointments and access Individualized Family Services Plans; clear evaluation of outcomes and next steps.
Having a modern solution also helps agencies recognize and overcome inequity of services in the following ways:
The TCS difference
Early Intervention services are critical to the healthy development of children.
Providing care services when the developing brain is most capable of change means services are far more effective in achieving their targeted outcomes, thereby also making them more cost-efficient than services provided later in life. Early Intervention can eliminate the need for further special education and have widespread social and economic benefits for children and families.
The indisputable importance of these services is demonstrated in the United States government’s federal funding of Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Yet many agencies are struggling with legacy systems that hinder productivity and equitable service delivery. Without comprehensive systems, children can fall through the cracks – and the state may not even know about it. Solutions should be centered around the child and family outcomes, facilitating a seamless experience at every stage. Transforming Early Intervention systems is about much more than just modern technology; it is about enriching lives and optimizing every child’s chance to succeed.
Investing in a modern Early Intervention solution is investing in your state’s future. Find out more about TCS’ Early Intervention modernization capabilities.