California Early Start: Making a Difference

Young parents and toddler in home looking at laptop screen with home visitor.Early Start is the California program responsible for ensuring that early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families are provided statewide in a coordinated and family-centered system.

Early intervention services are provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C —the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months may be eligible for early intervention services if they have a developmental delay in cognitive, communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development, including vision and hearing; an established risk condition with a high probability of resulting in delayed development; or high risk of having a substantial developmental disability due to a combination of biomedical risk factors, as diagnosed by qualified personnel.

Each state receiving IDEA funds is required to identify a “lead agency,” a single point of authority responsible for seeing that the purposes and provisions of IDEA are fulfilled and that, to the maximum extent possible, services are provided in a child’s natural environment. In California, the Governor identified the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) as the Part C lead agency. DDS is responsible for monitoring and implementation of the comprehensive, interagency, community-based, and family-focused early intervention system of services to eligible infants and toddlers. DDS shares administrative responsibility for delivery of services with the California Department of Education (CDE), which is the lead agency for IDEA Part B that serves children pre-kindergarten through age 21.