Early Identification and Intervention Systems in California

There is overwhelming evidence in the field that healthy early childhood development is a key determinant of a child’s success in school and beyond. Identifying problems early and guiding families to effective interventions can make an enormous difference in a child’s life outcomes. This is the role of Early Identification and Intervention, processes that detect developmental and behavioral concerns early and help families access the appropriate supports and services.

The entities that support early identification and intervention span multiple service delivery systems. Without a robust effort to align and coordinate the diverse services they provide, individual children and families too often fall through the systems’ cracks, especially if they face language and cultural barriers.

California’s 58 counties are fertile ground for understanding what it takes to build and operate a cross-sector system to promote effective early identification and intervention. Over the past year, we partnered with First 5 agencies and other local leaders that support a range of systems to enhance the early growth experiences of children. Together, we conducted case studies of three bright spots in early identification and intervention – Alameda, San Diego, and Santa Clara counties. Highlights include:

  • Alameda County’s philosophy of meaningful family engagement to maximize the value of developmental screenings and fully leverage them as a key front door to the broader system.
  • A broad-based network in San Diego County that enables extensive outreach, identifies even mild-to-moderate delays, and coordinates a wide constellation of partners.
  • Successful efforts to build capacity and close early intervention service gaps through a network of providers in Santa Clara County that leverages available Medi-Cal resources.

The key ingredients that we identified across these cases illustrate the importance of a community-based process, cross-sector collaboration, financing strategies, and attention to the local values and culture that guide this work.

With support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, we are sharing these cases to support the broader conversation about early identification and intervention systems in California and nationwide. The three county case studies provide a glimpse into real-life approaches for strengthening systems within each county’s local context, opportunities, and constraints. We hope that highlighting the processes, thinking, and decisions made in each county will support learning and spur new ideas.

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