Creating a Statewide ‘Toolkit’ for Early Intervention in Children’s Emotional Problems

By Evan Pellegrino

Keeping young children developmentally on track is the mission of the state’s Early Intervention Program, which is overseen by the Department of Health. Like similar statewide programs across the nation (and New York’s is the nation’s second largest), it receives referrals from parents, physicians, educators and others, and connects the affected families with service providers.   

In theory, its mission includes addressing the needs of children whose only reported problems are social-emotional. But advocates and researchers say that in practice—and in contrast with some major early intervention programs elsewhere in the U.S.—New York’s Early Intervention Program all too often fails to act appropriately in such cases, instead focusing almost exclusively on developmental disabilities and delays. The reasons they cite include a state failure to offer clear guidelines, training and skills concerning behavioral and emotional problems of small children to providers.

A 2014 report by Adelphi University’s Institute for Parenting reported, for example, that of the 12 states with the highest numbers of children under 3 receiving Early Intervention services, New York is the only one without a system of social-emotional development measurement standards.

The influential New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council, and other advocates in this field, are now seeking to remedy these shortcomings.  A small but important first step will be the publication and distribution, expected by the end of 2015, of a new “guidance document” for the Early Intervention Program. 

The guidance document will, says Bob Frawley, the Council’s co-chair, “help the field understand best practices to promote [social-emotional health] and to prevent social-emotional development issues from occurring.”  It will also link to resources such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publication "Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive."

The goal is to provide a kind of toolkit for developmental screening and other practices says Mary McHugh, director of strategic clinical solutions at the Division of Children and Family Services in the New York State Office of Mental Health. 

Find more information about New York's Early Intervention Program here.