A Closer Look: Policies and Programs for Young Children with Delays and Disabilities

In 2011, nearly 1,900 DC children from birth to age five with developmental delays and disabilities received services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Since DC’s recently approved FY14 budget includes an unprecedented $6.4 million local investment in DC’s early intervention program, Strong Start, now is a good time to take a close look at these programs.

Our new policy brief on Early Intervention and Special Education for Children Ages Birth to 5  offers an introduction to the policies, programs, and challenges pertaining to early intervention and special education in DC. The brief discusses:

•    Program Map
•    Early Education
•    Family Engagement
•    Health Care
•    Recommendations

Our analysis indicates that infants and toddlers with delays and disabilities and their families stand to benefit greatly from increased outreach and expanded eligibility criteria, both of which will be funded by the FY14 budget. Research consistently shows that early interventions for developmental delays reduce the demand for more costly and intensive special education services once children are in school.

Because so many agencies have a hand in running these programs, improving inter-agency collaboration and communication should be one of DC’s primary goals. Strong inter-agency relationships could bring about dramatic service improvements, just as a coordinated communication effort between the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the Department of Health Care Finance (HCF) recently helped to decrease Medicaid-related service delays in Strong Start from 29 instances to just one after only two years. As the range of early education options increases for families and new regulations for early intervention take effect, strong lines of communication between the lead agency, OSSE, and all other stakeholders will be invaluable. 

The early intervention brief focuses on policies, which are important to understand, but I hope the next stage of the conversation will focus on people. What are families’ experiences in these programs? How is outreach integrated into DC neighborhoods? Connecting our policies to children’s experiences in the places they live, learn and play will help us create better, more effective reforms moving forward.  


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