ELC Applauds Expanded Access to EI Services for Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Homelessness
Oct. 20, 2014 – For years, ELC has worked for expanded access to Early Intervention services for vulnerable children – including the estimated 6,000 Pennsylvania infants and toddlers (birth to 3 years old) experiencing homelessness. Many of these children suffer significant trauma and neglect – placing them at greater risk for developmental delays. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, trauma and poverty impact infants in unique yet substantial ways – often leading to lower learning capacities, maladaptive behaviors, and sometimes lifelong physical and mental health problems. Homelessness itself is a significant risk factor.
This is why we applaud the General Assembly and Gov. Corbett for adopting new legislation that expands access to Early Intervention services for these exceptionally vulnerable young children by making them categorically eligible for screening and developmental tracking.
Currently, all infants and toddlers under age 3 in Pennsylvania are entitled to be screened and evaluated to determine if they are eligible for EI services when their parent requests it. However, many “at risk” children do not meet the eligibility criteria at a given moment, but given other circumstances, including homelessness, they are at a higher risk for developmental delays.
In order to ensure that these children are identified and ultimately connected to services if needed, there are five categories that trigger screening and developmental tracking for children who have a higher likelihood of developmental delays and potential need for EI services.
These categories include:
- children with low birth weight (under 1500 grams);
- children cared for in neonatal intensive care units;
- those born to chemically dependent mothers;
- children who are seriously abused or neglected;
- children with confirmed dangerous levels of lead poisoning as determined by the Department of Health.
The new legislation adds “children who are homeless” to this list.
The legislation broadly defines homelessness in alignment with the federal McKinney-Vento Act and therefore includes not only children who are living in shelters and in transitional housing, but those who are doubled up, children abandoned in hospitals, and those living in a public or a private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodations. All of these young children will now automatically qualify to be screened and tracked for developmental delays to determine their possible eligibility for early intervention services.
This is an important victory – but the challenge for these children and families and for public agencies continues to be continuity of screenings, tracking and services, and overall stability. Once a child is screened and identified as eligible for developmental tracking, families and EI providers have to find ways to ensure that the tracking is consistent and the provision of EI services is also consistent and stable despite housing instability.
We know what a difference EI services can make in the course of a child’s developmental and educational trajectory – changes that impact not only an individual child but families and communities.
EI services strengthen infant brains through positive early experiences, early social/ emotional development, and improved physical health – these positive changes provide the foundation for developing cognitive and language skills and are essential to ensure that these children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.
Services to young children who have or are at greater risk for developmental delays have been shown to positively impact outcomes across developmental domains, including health, language and communication, cognitive development, and social/emotional development. Families benefit from early intervention by being able to better meet their children’s special needs from an early age and throughout their lives. Benefits to society include reducing the need for special education services and the lifelong contributions of strong, healthy, and independent adults.