Early Intervention and Equity: What You Should Know

Infant Smiling

In the United States, every child three years of age and under is entitled to specialized support and intervention services in reaching developmental milestones if they have a developmental delay — that is, if they are meeting these milestones more slowly than expected or if they have a high probability of experiencing a delay due to a diagnosed condition. This important piece of legislation falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Part C) and is meant to provide a strong foundation for children and their families that will endure over the course of their lifetimes. 


The Reality of Early Intervention

Unfortunately, access to these services is limited for some populations due to insufficient federal funding and exclusionary policies in health and education systems. Inequitable access to early intervention services largely affects children of color who could greatly benefit from specialized support (Magnusson et al., 2017). We know from research that race and ethnicity are associated with the probability of a child being identified as experiencing a developmental delay. Compared to White children with delays, Black children with delays are 44% less likely to receive a diagnosis and intervention services, while Latinx children with delays are 78% less likely (Mangusson et al., 2015). 


Additionally, a large national study found that White and Black children eligible for intervention services received them at the same rate of only 9% at nine months of age, but by age two Black children were five times less likely to receive early intervention services than their White peers (Feinberg et al., 2011). Separate studies noted that significantly more challenges were encountered by families of color entering into early intervention services than White families; negative experiences included not only more hardship in getting started with early intervention but once connected, a lack of cultural respect and dismissal of family concerns on part of the professionals (Bailey & Scarborough, 2003; Evans et al., 2016).


What Can Help to Promote Equity in Early Intervention?

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (2020) suggests that developing a diverse early intervention workforce that represents a variety of races, cultures and languages and mirrors the diversity of the early childhood population is essential to promoting equity in developmental monitoring and screening. Culturally aware professional development that centers on family engagement approaches is necessary to supporting all of our youngest children. This is where the NC Birth-to-Three Quality Initiative (B-3QI) can help.


Every birth-to-three specialist in NC B-3QI is trained on the use of the Ages & Stages Questionnaires, which are reliable, culturally sensitive and adaptive screening tools for children from birth to age five. Specialists also provide intensive support with developmental monitoring for infants, toddlers and two-year-olds using the Centers for Disease Control’s Learn the Signs Act Early materials and policy templates to embed ongoing monitoring into the fabric of a child care facility. We know you care deeply about the children and families in your care–let us help you increase family engagement and provide optimal developmental support! Contact us at b3qi@childcareservices.org to get connected to your regional birth-to-three specialist.

Bailey, Jr., D. B. & Scarborough, A. (2003). National early intervention longitudinal study: Families’ first experiences with early intervention. (Executive Summary). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina.


Evans, D. L., Feit,M. D., & Trent, T. (2016). African American parents and attitudes about child disability and early intervention services. Journal of Social Service Research, 42(1), 96-112. https://doi.org/10.1080/01488376.2015.1081118


Feinberg, E., Silverstein M., Donahue, S. & Bliss, R. (2011, May). The impact of race on participation in Part C early intervention services. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 32(4), 284-291, https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0b013e3182142fbd


Magnusson, D. M., Palta, M., McManus, B., Benedict R. E., & Durkin, M. S. (2015). Capturing unmet therapy need among young children with developmental delay using national survey data. Academy of Pediatrics, 16(2),145-53. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26183004/ 


Mangnusson, D. M., Minkovitz, C. S., Kuhlthau, K. A., Caballero, T. M. & Mistry, K. B. (2017). Beliefs regarding development and early intervention among low-income African American and Hispanic mothers. Pediatrics, 140(5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-2059


National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2020, October 19). Significant disproportionality in special education. www.ncld.org/sigdispro/