RD226 - Assessment of Virginia's Disability Services System: Early Intervention

Executive Summary:

The Early Intervention program, administered by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), provides services and supports to infants and toddlers with developmental delays and their families, in accordance with Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These services may include, but are not limited to, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological services, and service coordination. The services are intended to minimize developmental delay, maximize potential for independent living, and reduce costs to society by minimizing future need for special education and related services. About two-thirds of children receiving Virginia’s Early Intervention services in recent years have experienced substantial improvement in various skills (see Table 1, page ii).

Virginia’s Early Intervention program has insufficient resources, despite some significant investment by the General Assembly in recent years. The number of infants and toddlers served by the Early Intervention program is growing faster than the program’s funding (see Table 1, page ii), and all indication is that growth will continue. Consequently, Early Intervention funding per child served has decreased by 12 percent, from $4,137 in 2014 to $3,639 in 2018.

Virginia has opportunities to serve more children in integrated settings. While nearly all children from birth to age three receive Early Intervention services in a home- or community-based setting (see Table 1, page ii), services provided to older children in Virginia’s Early Childhood Special Education program, established via Part B of IDEA, are less integrated. For example, 27 percent of children ages three through five with an Individualized Education Plan attended a separate special education class, separate school, or residential facility in 2017. As the Commonwealth focuses on increasing opportunities for young children to receive the supports they need to become productive members of their communities, it is more important than ever that these programs have a shared vision and philosophy of inclusion.

The vast majority of children begin receiving Early Intervention services in a timely manner, but the transition from the Early Intervention program to the Early Childhood Special Education program has not always been as timely. The percentage of children who had an Individual Family Service Plan with transition steps and services, and the percentage of children who had a transition conference, at least 90 days prior to their third birthday, decreased substantially between 2014 and 2016. There were substantial improvements the following year, but the Commonwealth should continue ensuring that transitions occur on a timely basis.

Most of the data for this report was provided by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services’ (DBHDS) Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia, either in published reports or in response to direct requests for information. The data suffers from well-known limitations, but the trends noted in this Assessment have been so consistent over time that the conclusions drawn from them are nonetheless well supported.