Early Intervention Services can help your baby grow.
As babies grow, they develop new abilities to move, speak and relate emotionally. At each age, there are “developmental milestones”—typical behaviors or abilities that you’ll want to watch for in your children. For example, at 3 months old, babies should be able to make fists with both hands, lift their head and chest, and turn their head toward sounds, bright colors and light.
If your child isn’t meeting the milestones (which are listed on p. 5), consider get- ting your child evaluated for the Early Intervention Program, which provides special services to infants and toddlers up to 3 years old. In New York, all of the services are free.
Cara Chambers, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society’s Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project in New York, advocates for services for children with developmental delays or disabilities who are involved in the child welfare system. Here she explains how to get the help your child might need:
Q: How can parents know if their babies need help?
A: Parents should try to pay attention to how their babies are developing in a variety of ways. You shouldn’t feel that you’ve done something wrong if your baby’s delayed in meeting those milestones. Many children develop delays for unknown reasons and need special help. Parents simply can’t be experts in all areas in development, so they should use the expertise of specialists if their babies need extra help.
It’s important to get the services your child needs. When kids don’t get help with developmental delays, it can be incredibly stressful for the parent and the other members of the family. If you have a 2 1⁄2 year old who can’t communicate verbally, then your child might communicate by having tantrums, biting, hitting, or scratching. A specialist can teach your child how to communicate so the whole family will have an easier time.
Q: How can parents get special services for their babies?
A: If your baby isn’t meeting the milestones, you might be able to get free Early Intervention Services. Some services help parents, such as respite care, parent training, or nutrition services. Others help your baby directly. Specialists might work with your toddler on daily living skills like feeding themselves with their hands, pulling their socks up, holding their arms up to get dressed, brushing their teeth and washing their faces.
To get these services, you start by requesting an evaluation. In New York, you call 311 and ask to speak to the Early Intervention office in your borough. An Initial Service Coordinator will ask what your concerns are, so you might say, “My baby’s not talking very much at 3 years old.” Or, “She’s a year old but not really crawling.”
The coordinator will set up a meeting, usually in your home, to explain the services and your rights, and to get your consent to do the evaluation. Then the coordinator will set up a number of different evaluations and specialists will come into the home to assess how your baby is doing.
Once they’re done, you’ll have an Individualized Family Service Plan meeting, where a team will decide whether your child is eligible for services. You are a memeber of that team and have a right to attend the meeting. Your child will be eligible if he has a disability (a diagnosed condition like Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, etc.), or if he has one or more developmental delays.
If you don’t want the recommended services you don’t have to take them. But if you want to go ahead, then they’ll develop a service plan to address your child’s needs and specialists will begin coming to your home to help your child develop the skills he needs to catch up.
The greatest benefit of Early Intervention is that, because it’s provided in your home, you have an opportunity to learn from the specialist. Parents learn different games and strategies to use with their child, and when the specialist isn’t there, you can use the techniques to reinforce your child’s skills.
Q: Are those services available to infants and toddlers in foster care?
A: For children in foster care, there are sometimes difficulties setting up the services or keeping them going. Often, Early Intervention doesn’t know who to go to for consent. When children are in care the parent still has the right to consent to evaluations and services, unless the parent’s rights are terminated or the system cannot locate the parent. In that case, Early Intervention appoints a “surrogate” parent, usually the foster parent, to make those decisions.
Children in foster care sometimes change foster homes or return home, so when they move, their services get interrupted. We step in to get those services set up again.
If your child is in care, you have a right to be part of the evaluation or to be with your child while the specialist is there. In fact, it’s very important for the parent to be part of the services so they understand their child’s needs.
Sometimes you have to get creative. If the parent only has supervised visits it might be possible to have the evaluations and services provided at the agency during the visits. If the parent can go to the foster home where child is living they can be part of the services there.
Early intervention is part of a federal law, and every state has its own eligibility criteria and procedures. For information and help accessing services in your state, contact your state Parent Training and Information Center through www.taalliance.org.