Early Start

Every child is unique and develops at his or her own pace. Still, there may be times when you have concerns about your child’s development. It helps to learn about typical development and find resources to promote your child’s wellbeing. You can also connect with others who have been down this path before you.

Are you concerned about your child’s development? If so, contact your child’s primary health care provider for an evaluation. If he or she suggests services, early intervention can promote your child’s health and development during these critical early years.

Initiating Early Services
Each state has early intervention services. These are for children who qualify between birth and 36 months old. In California, this begins with a referral to the local regional center. This is through its Early Start program at (800) 515-BABY or earlystart@dds.ca.gov. Anyone concerned about a child’s development can make this referral. Often medical care providers, hospitals, parents, foster parents, and childcare providers refer a child.

If your child has a visual, hearing, or severe orthopedic impairment, you can also secure extra services. Contact the local school district or county program. (For information on services outside of California, see our resource section at the end of this article.)

Within 45 days of contacting your local regional center, a service coordinator will be assigned to your family. An evaluation will determine whether or not your child is eligible for services. If your child is eligible, the service coordinator and family will complete an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This plan will be based on your child’s developmental needs and your family’s concerns and priorities. It will document all of the services your child should receive.

Eligibility for Services in California

The California Department of Developmental Services is the lead agency for California’s Early Start program. This program is administered through the local regional centers. The program requires that children from birth to 36 months meet certain criteria to be eligible for early intervention services. Through a documented evaluation and assessment, a child must meet one or more of these criteria:

  • Have a developmental delay in either cognitive, communication, social, emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development, including vision and hearing
  • Be at high risk for delayed development due to a known condition
  • Be at high risk for a substantial developmental disability due to a combination of risk factors

Services in California
In California, services are free to families. They are based on each child’s needs as stated on the IFSP. According to the California Department of Developmental Services, services may include:

  • Assistive technology
  • Audiology
  • Family training, counseling, and home visits
  • Health services
  • Medical services for diagnostic/evaluation purposes only
  • Nursing services
  • Nutrition services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological services
  • Respite services
  • Service coordination (case management)
  • Social work services
  • Special instruction
  • Speech and language services
  • Transportation and related costs
  • Vision services

Families are typically offered a choice of early intervention centers and service providers contracted by their regional center. Service providers work with your child either one-on-one or in a group setting. Your child may receive services in the home, a childcare center, or center-based program or clinic. Services also may include parent support groups. Contact your local family resource center for further guidance navigating the Early Start system, parent-to-parent support, valuable resource information, and educational classes.

Getting Started » Links & Resources

The website of the Technical Assistance ALLIANCE for Parent Centers, including information on services outside of California

The website of the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, including information on services outside of California

The website of the California Department of Developmental Services with information on eligibility for Early Start services in California (Available also en Español at: http://www.dds.cahwnet.gov/Spanish/EarlyStartProgram_SP.cfm)

The website of the Family Resource Centers Network of California with a directory by county and region