Making the Case

Early identification and treatment of children at risk for developmental delay is critical to helping them achieve their full potential in life. The foundation for all aspects of a child’s healthy development (physical, behavioral, cognitive, and social/emotional) is laid during the first three years of life. Fortunately, a child’s developmental trajectory is dynamic. Children learn from every interaction, so developmental interventions, when offered early, can support healthy development, help to prevent developmental delay, and prepare children for school and a lifetime of well-being.

Regular assessments of a young child’s development are key to early identification. In their 2006 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirmed the importance of ongoing developmental surveillance, including using validated, standardized tools to screen for possible developmental delays at specific times during the critical first three years of life: at 9-,18-, and 24- or 30-month visits and for those children whose surveillance yields concerns about delayed or disordered development.

Early identification and treatment of young children at risk for developmental delay helps all systems serving young children and their families fulfill their purposes—and programs can increase early identification by conducting developmental screening. Ongoing coordination among all of these systems, including Part C Early Intervention, Part B Special Education, Early Head Start, Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting, child care, the medical home, and specialty medical care, is essential to ensuring that, once identified, children at risk for developmental delay are quickly and efficiently connected to assessment and treatment resources.

This Resource Center provides information about the policies, tools, and resources that states have used successfully in their efforts to foster healthy child development by improving developmental screening, along with referral and care coordination processes.

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