EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Early intervention programs in Utah not experiencing chronic staffing shortages

Oct 23, 2023, 6:00 AM

Early intervention programs in Utah aren't suffering from chronic staff shortages....

(left to right) 3 year-olds Lluvia Garcia and Jesus Gonzalez, hold their hands in the air during a sing-along at an early intervention program class, held in Midvale Thursday January 26, 2006. The early intervention program is sponsored by the Midvale City Community Building Community (CBC) Initiative, and is designed to prepare toddlers for kindergarten. (Deseret News file photo)

(Deseret News file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Not all newborns start eating, talking, walking or doing anything else at the same time. Nationally, for those children from birth to 3 years old who are struggling with any of these life skills, there is Early Intervention, and even here in Utah.

The Early Intervention program was created in 1986 to help children with developmental delays. About one in six children in the U.S. have at least one developmental delay.

Nationally, the program has been challenged recently with chronic staffing shortages which have left some parents frustrated. That is not happening in Utah.

Read more: Utah businesses lose billions each year because of issues with childcare

“We are experiencing some hiring challenges, but not for all the disciplines of Early Intervention,” said Carrie Martinez-Wolf, coordinator of the Early Childhood Care Coordination Program.

“One of the great things about Early Intervention is it has a 45-day requirement,” Martinez-Wolf explained. “If a family is referred, Early Intervention has 45 days to meet with them, determine if they’re eligible and then establish an Individualized Family Service Plan. That all has to be done within 45 days.”

While some states are struggling to meet that time requirement, Martinez-Wolf stated, “We’re meeting that deadline.”

Early intervention services in Utah for children

“A variety of services can be provided to children including occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy,” said Martinez-Wolf. She explained that eligibility for Early Intervention is based on development delay, which is determined through the assessment they do or medical diagnosis.

“I am a huge proponent and fan of Early Intervention,” she said. “I did it for years. I’ve seen the difference it makes with families and children.”

Sometimes, the most helpful thing Early Intervention does is put a parent’s mind at ease. New mothers are notorious for worrying that their child isn’t talking or walking at the time they should be.

“We can say to the family, ‘This is where your child is developmentally. They’re doing great!'” Martinez-Wolf explained. “As a mom, we worry so often if our child is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. So to have someone confirm that your child is doing great is a really important step for families and parents.”

What happens at 3?

If a child is involved with Early Intervention, there is a transition process into a preschool or other program.

“Early intervention can always help find additional services and support for the family,” Martinez-Wolf said.

What Utah provides is even better than what is offered nationally through Early Intervention.

“What the Department of Health and Human Services is doing is creating a brand new program that focuses on birth to age 8,” Martinez-Wolf explained. “It’s a free program that helps connect families with programs that they might not know about.”

So in Utah, we have access to five more years of help for children and families.

Parents and caregivers can reach out to receive an assessment or just ask questions by emailing or by calling 801-273-2804.

“Any family or provider working with children from 0-8 can call us, and we can begin an intake with the family,” Martinez-Wolf explained. “We’ll find out exactly what the family is looking for.” They can even help families who need help with afterschool care with children 5-7.

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Early intervention programs in Utah not experiencing chronic staffing shortages