Early Intervention Part C Program

You may have heard the term early intervention from a health expert or parent. If you are not sure what it means, you are not alone. This page will help you understand the difference between the common use of the term “early intervention” and the federally funded Early Intervention Part C program, which provides services for children with developmental delays.

To help keep things clear, we will usually refer to the concept of early intervention as "acting early" and we will refer to the federally-funded program as the "Early Intervention (EI) program."

The topic of early intervention (acting early) is not always clear as there are many agencies, funding streams, laws, and even creative solutions you'll need to know about, use, and/or come up with to help your child.

What is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention Part C is for children with disabilities from birth through age two, until their third birthday (see Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for more information).

The Family and Early Intervention Partnership

Your child, from birth to age three, may be referred to the Early Intervention program because of developmental concerns. If he was born prematurely, is slow in reaching developmental milestones, or has a disability, he should have Early Intervention services. A partnership between your family and your local EI program is of great value.

Family plays a big role in supporting the progress of a child. As a parent, you may notice that your child isn’t reaching developmental milestones, like walking, interacting, or talking. If you have concerns about your child’s development, it’s time to visit with your medical home/primary care doctor. Your child’s doctor can refer to the EI program for assessment and may also have your child seen by more specialists. While the window for reaching developmental milestones is somewhat wide, delays can be a sign of an underlying health issue.

The Medical Home and Early Intervention Partnership

The primary care doctor in your child’s medical home will track milestones using standardized developmental screening tools (see Developmental Screening). If developmental problems or delays are suspected, your child can be referred to a specialist for a more specific evaluation.

"Early identification of children with developmental delays is important in the primary care setting. The pediatrician is the best-informed professional with whom many families have contact during the first five years of a child's life. Parents look to the pediatrician to be the expert, not only on childhood illnesses, but also on development. Early Intervention services for children from birth to three years of age and Early Childhood Education Services for children three to five years of age are widely available for children with developmental delays or disabilities." [Committee: 2001]

You can help your child’s primary care doctor provide the best care by telling them about the programs and services your child is involved with such as the EI program. Keep a file of your child's medical history, visits with specialists and therapists, immunization records, and insurance providers, to share with the doctor. This will help to ensure the best care for your child. See Medical Summary (Word Document 35 KB) and Care Notebook.

Early Intervention Program from Birth to Age Three

The Early Intervention program, as discussed on this page, is a specific type of service for young children that is available in all states, as required by law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides federal funds for special education services (see IDEA Parent Guide (National Center for Learning Disabilities) (PDF Document 1.1 MB)). In 1997, an amendment to IDEA mandated early identification and intervention for infants and toddlers with special health care needs through the development of a community-based service system (Part C). To meet this mandate, states get federal funding to deliver services for all eligible young children. Funding for IDEA programs comes from the U.S. Department of Education to a state agency which may work with local programs. These programs are responsible for finding and providing services for children with developmental delays or disabilities from birth to age three.

If your infant or toddler is found eligible for the EI program, you will work closely with the program provider to find the strengths and needs of your child and family. This information will be used to help put together an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). As a parent or guardian, you will play a big role in the IFSP (see below for more information).

What Services Will Be Provided?

Examples of Early Intervention program services are:

  • Developmental evaluation (evaluation of speech, language, motor, cognitive, and social development)
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Special instruction
  • Nutritional services
  • Limited nursing services
  • Family training

Early Intervention therapists and home visitors may have special early intervention training or credentials as well as their professional license. The types of services that are provided for any child will depend on state rules and the recommendations from the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) Team. Some children will need more rehabilitation/therapy services than EI provides. Some families will use EI with therapy services from their insurance provider.

Who Is Eligible for the Early Intervention Program?

Infants and toddlers with developmental delays that meet the criteria are eligible for the Early Intervention program. While the federal law provides general guidelines, individual states set their own eligibility criteria. Federal law suggests that children, birth to three years old, may be eligible if they have a developmental delay or a diagnosed condition that is likely to cause a developmental delay. States may set eligibility based on developmental evaluation test scores and lists of certain diagnoses.

The Referral and Evaluation Process

baby wearing hearing aid and holding a flower looking in the direction of the camera
You can refer your infant or toddler up to age three to the Early Intervention program yourself or your medical home team can start the referral. Once a referral is received by the EI program, the service coordinator schedules an appointment with your family to gather information and tell you about the available services, resources, and evaluation. Then, a no cost evaluation for your child will be scheduled to focus on specific child development skills. EI staff use a variety of tests to check cognitive, language, motor, social, emotional, behavioral, and self-help skills. The no cost evaluation process should include a complete assessment of your family's concerns, priorities, and resources.

As part of the evaluation, the service coordinator may ask for information from your primary care doctor, including well visit records, vision, hearing, and developmental test results. Federal regulations require that the evaluation and assessment process be completed within 45 days of the referral. Health and development information provided by your primary care doctor and other providers can help the Early Intervention program team assess levels of functioning and eligibility of your infant or toddler.

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

After the first assessment and eligibility determination, an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, is put together with help from the family, Early Intervention program staff, and other professionals. The IFSP is a family’s written plan for Infant-Toddler Program services. It shows how the family and a team of experts will work together to provide the services the parents desire for their child. The IFSP is family-centered, meaning that parents will be active team members and the key decision makers in the IFSP.

The IFSP is based on information from a child’s evaluation and from the concerns, resources and priorities that parents identify. The IFSP team uses the assessment process and the needs of your family to decide the place, time, type and amount of services to be provided. The child's current level of functioning will be documented, and goals set for each identified need. The IFSP will list the services the child needs to grow and develop, as well as the services a family needs to help their child, and the duties of everyone involved. Some of the help families receive may come from their own family and friends. Other services will be provided by specialists. An Early Intervention Service Coordinator (EISC) is responsible for explaining the IFSP to parents. He/she will make sure the IFSP is written, and answer any questions parents have.

The team will plan strategies to meet the goals in the IFSP, and a six-month re-evaluation date will be set. The IFSP is re-evaluated each year, but it can be changed at any time if your child's needs change. By the time your child is 2 years old, the EI program will help you start planning for the transition to preschool services.

Where Are Services Provided?

Children are served in many environments that may include but are not limited to:

  • Their family home
  • Child care center
  • Play group
  • Local community center

Service providers use natural learning environments and activities that meet each child's changing needs to promote functional skills, development, and learning. No matter where your child meets with her Early Intervention program team, she will be served according to the goals developed in the IFSP.

Funding of Services

State and Federal agencies are responsible for providing specific services at no charge, though funding varies from state to state. These services include:

  • Child Find and Referral: Early Intervention programs locate infants and toddlers who may have disabilities and evaluate them for eligibility for Early Intervention.
  • Assessment Find and Referral: Early Intervention programs locate infants and toddlers who may have disabilities and evaluate them for eligibility for Early Intervention.
  • Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP) Development and Review: The IFSP describes the Early Intervention services that the family and child will receive.
  • Procedural Safeguards (Family Rights): Families receive a document that describes the protections and legal rights provided by the IDEA law.
  • Service Coordination: Staff at Early Intervention programs help families determine their needs and access services to reach their goals.

When services are not free, based on your state’s policies, you may have to pay for certain other services. You may be charged a “sliding-scale” fee, meaning the fees are based on your income. Your EI organization will explain if, and how, they will charge for any services.

IDEA Part B is the Special Education program for children with disabilities from their third birthday to age twenty-two, and is discussed on the Special Education Supports and Services page.

Additional Early Services

For more information about other early services and eligibility, see Additional Early Services.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Find Your Parent Center
Parent Centers provide education and referrals for families with a child who has a disability, as well as the professionals who work with them. There are almost 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in the US states and Territories; Center for Parent Information & Resources.

State Part C Early Intervention Coordinators
Lists state contacts for Early Intervention (Part C) agencies and is an easy way to locate the person in charge of your state’s Early Intervention programs; National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA Center).

Talaris Child Development Timeline
Provides a helpful, interactive timeline for parent’s to look at a child’s developmental milestones in different areas including physical, social, learning, and communication.

Learn the Signs Act Early (CDC)
Offers many tools, videos, lists, learning materials, and a developmental Milestone Tracker app (ages 2 months to 5 years); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical Summary (Word Document 35 KB)
This sample summary or individual health plan provides a way to keep track of personal contact information, diagnoses, problems, medications, immunizations, providers, specialists, medical equipment, and more.

First Signs
A national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating parents and pediatric professionals about the early warning signs of autism and other developmental disorders. Includes developmental milestones, red flags, and communication needs of parents and physicians.

IDEA All About It
A website is full of information about IDEA. Summaries of IDEA’s requirements, which shape what school systems do; IDEA itself—to read IDEA’s exact words; guidance on IDEA from the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education; and training materials on IDEA. IDEA Part B (ages 3-21) and Part C (ages birth-3). A legacy resource from NICHCY, now with the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

Services for Patients & Families in New Mexico (NM)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: May 2013; last update/revision: September 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Authors: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD
Gina Pola-Money
Lynne M. Kerr, MD, PhD
Reviewer: Tina Persels

Page Bibliography

Committee on Children With Disabilities.
Role of the pediatrician in family-centered early intervention services.
Pediatrics. 2001;107(5):1155-7. PubMed abstract