New Report Outlines Strategies to Support the Needs of Infants and Toddlers in Child Welfare and Early Intervention Programs

Research shows that infants and toddlers involved in Child Welfare (CW) are at risk of poor social-emotional, behavioral, and learning outcomes for reasons such as family adversities, trauma, maltreatment, and separation from primary caregivers.

To help policymakers address the mental health and developmental needs of infants and toddlers in these circumstances, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Bank Street Graduate School of Education released a new report titled Child Welfare and Early Intervention: Policies and Practices to Promote Collaboration and Help Infants and Toddlers Thrive. The publication examines successful strategies and policies around CW and Early Intervention (EI) in three states, focusing on the important role of state and local agencies in supporting the well-being of very young children.

“Early Intervention programs, which address children’s earliest developmental difficulties across multiple domains, including social-emotional delays and conditions, offer opportunities for infants and toddlers involved with Child Welfare to receive multiyear, family-centered support and ongoing monitoring for developmental delays and mental health conditions,” explained Sheila Smith, Director, NCCP. “This report takes a closer look at effective, collaborative approaches between CW and EI agencies and suggests ways these strategies can be scaled through strengthened policies and investments to help our youngest children thrive.”

The report outlines 10 key strategies used across Colorado, Rhode Island, and Texas, such as the use of data systems to ensure that children are referred from CW to EI in a timely matter. For example, Colorado Trails is a data system used by CW caseworkers to document activities related to individual cases and it serves as an integral tool in referring children to EI. The state also performs periodic cross-checks to monitor and confirm that all appropriate referrals are occurring.

Another strategy emphasizes a strong focus on the social-emotional needs of infants and toddlers in referrals to EI and in EI screening and evaluation. In Rhode Island, for instance, the Community Care Alliance (CCA) assigns a mental health professional to an EI eligibility evaluation team working with a child referred from CW. This can help children qualify for EI based on an informed clinical opinion in situations where a child is not eligible based on a formal assessment tool.

Additionally, the report highlights the importance of access to early child development supports in EI for children of color to help address racial disparities in school success, noting that there is a disproportionate number of children of color involved in CW due to poverty, bias, and other barriers to receiving available services that address basic family needs.

“It is clear that various policies and workforce supports are needed to help infants and toddlers involved in CW gain timely access to EI and other developmental and mental health services,” said Daniel Ferguson, Research Associate, NCCP. “Recommendations based on our three-state study suggest how these strategies can be built into more formal policies to promote consistent use within and across CW and EI agencies and larger systems to help support the social-emotional development and mental health of infants and toddlers.”

The report concludes with a powerful message on advancing equity through policies and investments that promote access to EI to ensure all children receive the developmental and mental health support they need.

To read the report, visit nccp.org/publication/cw-and-ei