Our Nation’s Youngest Children at Risk: Easter Seals Releases State-by-State Report on Early Intervention

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Infants and Toddlers in nearly every state continue to fall behind; six states identified as bright spots

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With the right investment in treatment and therapy before the age of five, we can ensure every child in America can enter school ready to learn.

Easter Seals this morning released a new report Our Nation’s Children at Risk: A State-by-State Report on Early Intervention during its 2011 International Convention currently being held in Washington, D.C. In meetings with Members of Congress on The Hill today, more than 300 Easter Seals volunteers, staff and families with disabilities will share both the report’s findings and a petition with nearly 40,000 signatures urging legislators to invest in young children.

The new report details how well each state takes care of its youngest children with disabilities and delays. The unfortunate news: infants and toddlers in nearly every state continue to fall behind, many will never catch up.

“With the right investment in treatment and therapy before the age of five, we can ensure every child in America can enter school ready to learn,” says Katy Neas, senior vice president, government relations, Easter Seals and Make the First Five Count spokesperson.

While there are many choices for families seeking early identification and early intervention services, the federally funded Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C program offers families of children under the age of 3 with services designed to help them facilitate their infant or toddler’s development. It’s a program created to help young children with disabilities or developmental delays catch up with their peers without disabilities, or enhance their development so they can better learn and grow.

In October 2011 the nation celebrated IDEA’s 25th anniversary, yet the legislation has never been fully or adequately funded. Nationally, approximately 2.67 percent of children under the age of three are enrolled in the Part C program. And yet, data from the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center indicates nearly 13 percent of all children under the age of three should be served, using current eligibility criteria. Data from the US Maternal and Child Health Bureau indicate nearly 20 percent of all children could benefit from early identification and early intervention services.

The Report: Highlights
The Easter Seals report highlights some bright spots. States including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Wyoming, New York and New Hampshire serve more than 4 percent of their population through the Part C program of IDEA. These six states reach far more children with disabilities and delays than other states, with more young children able to access the critical services and supports they need early in life.

“These states are on the right track, and should serve as an example to others, but we know it’s just the beginning. We have to convince state and federal policy makers about the value of investing in the Part C program,” adds Neas.

This is especially true in states that serve fewer than 2 percent of their population including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Montana, Missouri, Arkansas and the District of Columbia.

Nobel Prize winning economist, Dr. James Heckman reports, “early childhood investments pay dividends for the life of the child and each dollar invested returns $60-$300 dollars over the lifetime.” Every year, 1.45 million children with disabilities under age 5 go undiagnosed, entering kindergarten with delays that put them behind their peers – most coping with learning and health difficulties that are often completely treatable. Funding for programs that help kids with special needs is already inadequate – and with major budget cuts up for consideration in Congress, millions more could fall through the cracks.

“It’s clear it’s in our national interest to invest in the Part C program,” continues Neas.

Make the First Five Count for Young Children
Easter Seals is sharing the report across the United States, engaging in discussions about the importance of early intervention with federal, state and local legislators, community leaders, educators, other nonprofits, media, and our volunteers, families and staff. The data and stories serve as a factual, and humanized, resource for parents and advocates of young children and those looking to learn more about early intervention.

Easter Seals created Make the First Five Count to advocate for children at risk for developmental delays or disabilities and ensure they get the support they need to be school-ready and build a foundation for a lifetime of learning. Through Make the First Five Count, Easter Seals is calling on Congress to protect and grow funding for Part C by $100 million, for a total of $539 million, in the years to come.

If you believe all kids deserve a chance to learn, build lifelong skills, and achieve their dreams, speak out today!
Become a part of the solution. Join Easter Seals at MaketheFirstFiveCount.org.

The Report: States by the Numbers
The individual state profiles within the report provide a comprehensive overview of the current status of federal and state funding for early intervention services through the Part C program of IDEA in each of the 50 states and the District of Colombia. Easter Seals looked at funding levels compared not only to the number of children (ages 0-3) served under Part C every year, but also how many children fail to receive the proper screenings to identify their special need and how many children are at risk for developmental delays, autism or disabilities in each state. And finally, for each state, Easter Seals shared at least one local story of a young child who is truly thriving because of the early services and support he or she received.

It’s also important to note, funding cuts or limitations have forced states to make difficult choices to limit the number of children who are eligible for Part C services to those children with only the most significant disabilities. The report identifies the number of children who may have mild to moderate disabilities, developmental delays or who are at risk for developmental delays who could benefit from such services -- beyond those children who are currently eligible.

About Easter Seals
Easter Seals is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and other special needs. For more than 90 years, we have been offering help and hope to children and adults living with disabilities, and to the families who love them. Through therapy, training, education and support services, Easter Seals creates life-changing solutions so that people with disabilities can live, learn, work and play. Visit http://www.MaketheFirstFiveCount.org.

Media Contacts:
Kristen Barnfield, Easter Seals
P: 312.551.7147
kbarnfield(at)easterseals(dot)com

Rachel Talen, Easter Seals
P: 312.551.7246
rtalen(at)easterseals(dot)com

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