Act Early Idaho Logo. Child reaching for a star in front of Idaho.
Estimates in the United States indicate that one in six children, ages three to seventeen, have a developmental delay or disability (Zablotsky et al., 2019). Positive developmental outcomes have been strongly associated with early intervention services, indicating a clear priority for identifying children with developmental delays and disabilities early. With high quality intervention in the first three years of life, children’s developmental trajectory can be changed, resulting in improved outcomes across all areas of development (NECTAC, 2011).

In collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Association for University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Act Early Idaho has worked to examine and expand early identification efforts across multiple programs serving families with very young children in Idaho, with specific considerations for impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an initial activity, Act Early Idaho completed a needs assessment to better understand current, emerging, and changing strengths, needs, barriers, and opportunities for early identification in Idaho in the context of COVID-19.

The Act Early Idaho Needs Assessment was conducted through a national survey developed by the CDC and through 21 partner interviews. Findings indicate that engagement in early identification activities is inconsistent and varies greatly across programs serving young children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, early childhood programs have seen further decreases in all early identification activities, including developmental monitoring, developmental screening, referrals to early intervention programs, and receipt of early intervention services. Programs reported hesitancy to refer children and families to early intervention based on uncertainty of service availability and capacity.

Many early childhood programs across a variety of early childhood sectors, including Head Start/Early Head Start, early intervention, and early childhood special education programs utilized technology to continue supporting families with early identification activities when in-person services were not permitted. Disparities in access to technology were noted across Idaho, and especially in rural locations. With increased stressors among families, early identification was reported by one partner “as one more thing for families to worry about,” especially as developmental concerns specific to the social and emotional development of young children notably increased.

In response to information gathered through the needs assessment, Act Early Idaho took initial steps to support the resiliency of Idaho families with young children through the development of a resiliency toolkit. The Act Early Idaho Resiliency Toolkit outlines resources for families as they navigate COVID-19, including information on monitoring children’s development and responding to developmental concerns.

In collaboration with multiple statewide partners, including Idaho WIC, the Idaho Commission for Libraries, Head Start/Early Head Start, IdahoSTARS, the Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Idaho Parents Unlimited (IPUL), and more, Act Early Idaho has provided targeted technical assistance to programs to assist in expanded early identification efforts. Act Early Idaho has also disseminated the CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” materials across the state, including development milestone checklists, information on the Milestone Tracker App, information on addressing developmental concerns, and children’s books that introduce developmental milestones in engaging ways for children and families.

For more information about the work of Act Early Idaho, including the results of the Act Early Idaho Need Assessment, visit the Act Early Idaho webpage.