Early intervention: a national overview.
that began in 1986. All states currently provide services to young children with disabilities and their families. For children in the age range of birth to three, almost 40 states now provide an entitlement to early intervention services. All states ensure the provision of public educational services to all eligible three- through five-year-olds.
Three major portions of IDEA--Part H, Section 619 and EEPCD--have been particularly important to the expansion and improvement of services to young children with disabilities.
Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part H)
Part H of IDEA--a 1986 amendment to was then known as EHA--was a major of federal legislation dealing with services to the very youngest children with disabilities. Part H did not require states to provide early intervention to children from birth to age three, but it offered assistance to states (or territories) that were interested in serving this age group. Under Part H, participating states received federal help in planning and implementing systems of comprehensive, multi- disciplinary, interagency programs for all eligible young children and their families.
Part H requires that statewide service-delivery systems fit each state's unique needs and characteristics. Participating states are asked to work with local communities in designing a family-centered, collaborative, culturally competent and high quality service system. Each governor must designate a lead agency within the state government to plan and oversee the operation of this systems. This lead agency is advised and assisted by a governor-appointed Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) representing various agencies, service providers, universities and parents.
Preschoolers with Disabilities (Part B/Section 619)
Section 619 of IDEA (an amendment to a previous portion of Part B of the EHA) created greater funding incentives to states to provide a "free appropriate public education" to all eligible three- through five-year-old children with disabilities by the 1991-92 school year. Family services and programming variations are encouraged. In addition, all other requirements of a state's Part B plan for special education and related services--Individualized Education Program (IEP), due process, and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)--must be met.
Early Education Program for Children with Disabilities (EEPCD)
EEPCD expanded EHA projects known as the Handicapped Children's Early Education Program. Today, there are over 130 EEPCD projects nationwide. These projects include model/demonstration programs, research institutes, inservice training projects, outreach programs and technical assistance. Together, these projects seek to provide information on effective programs and techniques, demonstrate collaboration and inter-project networking and expand the quality and quantity of services to young children.
Programs across the country are using a variety of collaborative and creative strategies to meet the challenges posed by the Part H and Section 619 of the IDEA legislation. For example, all states have or are developing:
* Coordination plans and agreements with other federal programs serving children and families;
* Policies regarding eligibility, individualized service plans, service coordination, transitions, least restrictive/most natural environments, procedural safeguards, child identification, health care and diversity;
* Ways to coordinate multiple funding sources to enable their systems to operate effectively and efficiently;
* Broad dissemination of information on successful programs and procedures that will benefit services to children and families;
* A high level of volunteer and collaborative participation, including involvement in the State Interagency Coordinating Council, the council task forces and its committees and local and regional activities;
* Methods to ensure that all professional personnel-- early interventionists, teachers, occupational and physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists and nurses--are qualified; and
* Public awareness programs, especially related to child identification activities.
Through IDEA, Congress has established a national reform agenda that seeks to expand the opportunities of early intervention and preschool services to more young children with disabilities and their families. IDEA aims to enhance child development, minimize the likelihood of institutionalization and provide much-needed support to families. The promises and dreams of IDEA are becoming a reality through the formation of partnerships, use of new knowledge, tapping of resources and hard work of America's citizens.
Pascal Trobanis, Ph.D., is director of the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System (NEC*TAS) of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For more than 20 years, he has been involved in a variety of efforts to improve and expand services for young children with special needs and their families.