In September 2012, I wrote a column about a federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), which governs how schools identify children with special needs and create individualized education programs. The Summit County Public Health department has been using the article to introduce the IDEA program to new participants, and it asked me to follow up with another article about how IDEA works for children under age 3. This part of IDEA is commonly known as "early intervention" or "EI."
When Congress enacted IDEA it found an urgent and substantial need for services that would, among other goals: recognize the significant brain development that occurs during a child's first three years of life, enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities, and minimize their potential for developmental delay. It therefore made funds available to states that create EI programs meeting certain requirements. Colorado's EI program is administered through Community Centered Boards (CCBs), which coordinate services among agencies in one or more counties.
For purposes of IDEA, an infant or toddler with a disability is, essentially, an individual under the age of 3 who needs special services because of developmental delay or a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay. There are detailed rules and guidelines specifying what constitutes a developmental delay or a recognized condition correlated with developmental delay. Eligibility may be based on such things as trauma due to exposure to family violence.
Children under age 3 can be referred to the local CCB for EI screening, evaluation and assessment. Anyone can make the referral, including child welfare caseworkers in cases of substantiated abuse and neglect, doctors, neighbors, and family members. While anyone can make a referral, the EI program requires parental consent at each step. Once a referral is made, the CCB will work with the parents and provide an evaluation and assessment free of charge. In each case, a Service Coordinator (SC) is assigned to help with the process.
If a child is determined to be eligible for EI services, an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is developed. An IFSP provides services to meet the child's and family's needs, based on an evaluation of the resources, priorities, and concerns of the family. The IFSP addresses the following in writing: (1) a child's strengths and needs; (2) the resources and priorities of the family related to the child; (3) outcomes to measure the child's progress; and (4) necessary support and services to achieve the outcomes. The IFSP is reviewed at least every six month and rewritten every year. The SC is responsible for implementing the plan and coordinating local service providers. The IFSP may contemplate the child receiving medical services, but the family is responsible for obtaining those services. The EI record is kept confidential by service providers.
When a child is receiving EI services, the CCB will help plan a transition to preschool services or to a FAPE and IEP (the next level of special education as discussed in my previous article), if eligible.
An invaluable resource for EI services in Colorado is the website at www.eicolorado.org. Among many other things, it provides materials about EI services, a database of recognized conditions that can lead to EI eligibility, and contact information for CCBs and service providers. I have a friend whose child showed significant progress after implementing an IFSP to address speech problems. I wouldn't hesitate to contact the CCB to address any concerns with a child's development.
Noah Klug is owner of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, in Summit County, emphasizing real estate, business, and litigation. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.