Overview of California Early Start

WHAT IS EARLY START?
Early Start is California’s system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. It is a multiagency effort by the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and the California Department of Education that encourages partnerships between families and professionals, family support, and coordination of services. The statewide system of early intervention services is available throughout California and can be accessed through regional centers for developmental disabilities, county offices of education, local school districts, health or social service agencies, and family resource centers and networks in your community.

An important part of Early Start is the network of family resource centers (FRCs) that provides parent-to-parent contact, information about disabilities and early intervention, and assistance in accessing services. Phone contact, home or hospital visits, and support groups are all ways in which families might connect with experienced, knowledgeable parent “peers” through their local FRC.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months of age may be eligible for early intervention services if, through documented evaluation and assessment, they meet one of the criteria listed below:
1. Have a developmental delay in either cognitive, communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development including vision and hearing.
2. Have established risk conditions of known etiology with a high probability of resulting in delayed development.
3. Are at high risk of a substantial development disability due to biomedical factors.

WHAT ARE EARLY INTERVENTION SERVICES?
Early intervention services are provided based on the developmental needs of the child, the concerns and priorities of the family, and the resources available to them. Services are provided within the context of the child’s and family’s daily activities and routines. Eligible children and families may receive a variety of early intervention services; some children may need only one or two early intervention services. Early intervention services may include:

  • Assistive technology
  • Audiology or hearing services
  • Family training, counseling, and home visits
  • Health services necessary for a child to benefit from other early intervention services
  • Medical services for diagnosis and evaluation only
  • Nursing services
  • Nutrition services
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychological services
  • Service coordination (case management)
  • Social work services
  • Special instruction
  • Speech and language services
  • Transportation and related costs necessary for a child to receive services
  • Vision services

WHO PROVIDES SERVICES AND SUPPORTS?
Early intervention services are individually determined for each eligible infant or toddler and are provided, purchased, or arranged by a regional center or local education agency. Local education agencies are primarily responsible for services for infants with vision, hearing, and severe orthopedic impairments, including any combination of these solely low incidence disabilities. Regional centers are responsible for services for all other children eligible for Early Start. Early Start family resource centers provide parent-to-parent support, information, and referral for all families.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
There is no cost for evaluation, assessment, and service coordination. Early Start is funded by state and federal funds. Costs may be incurred for services under the Family Cost Participation Program, the Annual Family Program Fee, and insurance costs for medical therapies.

WHAT OTHER SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE?
The California departments of Health Care Services, Managed Health Care, Social Services, and Public Health are state agencies that provide services and resources that may be beneficial. Descriptions of the services that these agencies provide are on this site. Each agency determines eligibility for the services that it provides.

HOW DO I ACCESS MORE INFORMATION?
Call the regional center in your local area or 800-515-BABY, visit www.dds.ca.gov/Birth36Months, or email earlystart@dds.ca.gov for resource information or referral to local Early Start services and family resource centers.