The Early Start Program is California’s response to federal legislation ensuring that Early Start services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families are provided in a coordinated, family-centered system of services that are available statewide. Early intervention services are provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C —the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities.
Early Start Eligibility Criteria
Infants and toddlers from birth to age 36 months may be eligible for early intervention services through Early Start if, through documented evaluation and assessment, they meet one of the criteria listed below:
Have a 25% or greater developmental delay in one or more areas of either cognitive, expressive communication, receptive communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development, including vision and hearing; or
Have an established risk condition of known etiology, with a high probability of resulting in delayed development; or
Be considered at high risk of having a substantial developmental disability due to a combination of two or more risk factors of which are diagnosed by qualified personnel. High risk for a developmental disability also exists when a multidisciplinary team determines that the parent of the infant or toddler is a person with a developmental disability and the infant or toddler requires early intervention services.
Solely Low Incidence Disabilities
A solely low incidence disability is defined as one or a combination of low incidence disabilities which are vision impairment, severe orthopedic impairment, and hearing impairment which is the primary disability and has a significant impact on learning and development.
Infants and toddlers with solely low incidence disabilities are not eligible for services from a Regional Center and should be referred to the local education agencies (LEA’s) for early intervention services.
Who can make a referral to Early Start?
Anyone can make a referral, including parents, medical care providers, neighbors, family members, and day care providers. The first step that parents and caregivers may take is to discuss their concerns with their health care provider or doctor. For children residing in foster care, the social worker with the Dept of Children and Family Services (DCFS) should be contacted to discuss the concerns regarding the child’s development. The DCFS social worker will then gather the necessary legal documentation required for Early Start referrals to the Regional Center.
If the child has a visual impairment, hearing impairment, or severe orthopedic impairment, or any combination of these conditions, contact the school district for evaluation and early intervention services. After contacting the Regional Center or school district, a Service Coordinator will be assigned to help the child’s parents through the process to determine eligibility. Parent-to-parent support and resource information is also available through Early Start Family Resource Centers.
What happens after a referral is made to Early Start?
Within 45 days of receiving the referral, SCLARC will take the following steps:
- Assign a service coordinator to assist the family through evaluation and assessment procedures.
- Obtain parental consent.
- Schedule and complete evaluations and assessments of the child’s development.
- If an infant or toddler is eligible for early intervention services, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) will be developed that addresses the strengths and needs of the infant or toddler, parental concerns, and early intervention services.
- Identify early intervention services that are provided in the family home or other community settings.