Being a new parent is hard. Babies don’t come with an instruction manual, unless you count Dr. Spock’s notorious “Baby and Child Care” book from the 1940s. Kids also don’t come with a personal coach, ready to guide you in all the nuances of supporting your child’s development.
Or do they?
This is actually the concept of Early Intervention, a program created and funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For children who are experiencing delays in their development or are born with conditions that are associated with delays, families can be paired with a professional “coach.” Depending on the needs, the coach may be a speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, early childhood special educator or other trained professional. For children with complex needs, it may even be a whole team of coaches.
For obvious reasons, the EI program is very popular with families who participate. Their EI professional serves as that coach all new parents desire, providing tools and resources for supporting a child’s development, assessing how the child responds, and adjusting the interventions to match the child’s progress and the family’s routines and priorities. Even better, the EI program is free to families. For children 0 to 3 who qualify, the costs are covered by private insurance, Colorado state funds or the U.S. Department of Education.
But initial entry into the program has historically been complicated and less than customer friendly. In Colorado, EI is managed by the Department of Human Services Office of Early Childhood, while the evaluations for all children 0 to 21 have been the responsibility of the Department of Education. For families, this has entailed being shuffled between systems several times before even beginning services.
In 2021, the Colorado State Legislature decided to try something new and shifted the responsibility of evaluations for kids birth to 3 years over to the Office of Early Childhood. Over the past year, state and local EI professionals have been designing a new system for evaluating young children with suspected delays. Starting July 1, the official new evaluation process will be introduced statewide. At the same time, the Office of Early Childhood is moving to the governor’s new Department of Early Childhood, combining all state programs for young children under one roof for the first time.
These changes at the state level have of course prompted changes at the local level. The local nonprofit Community Connections is transitioning into the role of providing EI evaluations for Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties. Our hope is for a more seamless system for families to get involved with the EI program.
For more information about EI or to make a referral for children birth to age 3, contact Community Connections at 259-2464. For statewide referrals, contact the Office of Early Childhood at (833) 733-3734. For children 3 and older, continue to make referrals to Durango School District 9-R at 247-5411 (for students within the Durango 9-R school district) or San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services at 247-3261 (for all other area school districts).
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.