Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A National Look at Children and Families Entering Early Intervention

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A National Look at Children and Families Entering Early Intervention

Article excerpt

In 1986, Public Law 99-457, Part H (now Part C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was enacted, offering funding to states to plan and implement comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary early intervention (EI) services to infants and toddlers with disabilities. IDEA mandates 16 components of EI and provides an accompanying set of regulations but allows states considerable flexibility in program implementation. The legislation was established to provide services to children and families who qualified according to individual state eligibility definitions and to encourage system reform through service integration (Roberts, Innocenti, & Goetze, 1999; Walsh, Campbell, & McKenna, 1988). Although Part C is an optional program, all states and territories participate. In 2001, nearly 250,000 children were identified as being at risk or having a developmental delay or disability before 36 months of age and were enrolled in Part C programs across the United States (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

One of the complex issues faced by states in implementing Part C has been the question of who should be eligible for services (Meisels & Wasik, 1990). State perspectives on entitlement to services are manifested in variable definitions of eligibility (Shackelford, 2002), as well as in the organization of state service systems. To date, a few studies have reported state data about Part C participants (Coulter, Wallace, & Laude, 1993; Hauser-Cram, Warfield, Shonkoff, & Krauss, 2001; Taylor, Carran, Fleming, & Mugno, 1999) or contain cross-state comparisons of specific dimensions of Part C service systems (Dunst & Bruder, 2002; Harbin, Danaher, & Derrick, 1994; Roberts et al., 1999). However, because of the significant state-to-state variability of eligibility definitions and service systems, these studies cannot adequately portray a national perspective of children and families who receive early intervention services (Hebbeler, 1991; Spiker, Hebbeler, Wagner, Cameto, & McKenna, 2000).

The National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study (NEILS) is the first study of a nationally representative sample of children and families receiving early intervention services. NEILS was designed to provide both descriptive and explanatory information about the children and families in early intervention, the services they receive, and their outcomes. The study has a longitudinal design following the children from the time they entered early intervention (in 1997 and 1998), through the transition out of the Part C system at or before 36 months of age, and at entry to kindergarten. The conceptual model of NEILS is based on the recognition that outcomes for children and families are influenced by a complex interplay of child, parent, and community factors with early intervention services.

This article provides a national portrait of the children and families at entry to Part C services and addresses two major questions. First, who are the infants and toddlers who enter the early intervention system? Data presented include information on the children's age at entry, race/ethnicity, gender, reasons for eligibility, specific disabilities, and health characteristics. Second, who are the families who have infants and toddlers who enter the early intervention system? The data include sociodemographic information of the family such as income, receipt of public assistance, poverty status, and maternal educational attainment. For each question, where available, national data are used to compare the characteristics of children and families in early intervention with those of children and families in the general population.


The sample consisted of 3,338 infants and toddlers who entered EI for the first time between September 1997 and November 1998. The sample was drawn from a universe of approximately 170,000 children who were receiving Part C services nationally. …

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