Early Start

Early Start logo

The Early Start (ES) program is California’s early intervention program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or at risk for having a developmental disability and their families. Early Start services are available statewide and are provided in a coordinated, family-centered system.

Parents, caregivers, and families can find a comprehensive overview of the Early Start Program in the

Early Start Information Packet: English Spanish

  • The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities was enacted in 1986 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 20; U.S.C., Section 1431 et seq.). This program is California’s response to federal legislation ensuring that early intervention services for infants and toddler with disabilities and their families are provided in a coordinated, family-centered system of services that are available statewide.
  • For more information on Early Start, please visit the What is Early Start? webpage.

1. CADRE- Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education CADRE’s Technical Assistance (TA) is designed to increase the nation’s capacity (parents and professionals) to prevent and resolve special education and early intervention disputes to improve outcomes for children and youth with disabilities.

2. CADRE- Quick Guide to Early Intervention Dispute Resolution Guide developed by CADRE to support parents in understanding the Dispute Resolution Process for Families of Infants & Toddlers (Birth through Age 2)

  • Parents have rights and access to procedural safeguards to assure that early intervention services are provided in a manner appropriate to the child’s needs and concerns of the family.
  • Procedural safeguards include: confidentiality, access to records, evaluation and assessment, individual family service plans, and periodic and annual individual family service plan review.
  • For more information please see The Parent’s Rights Booklet. PDF
  • Learn more about the Early Start Complaint Process here.

  • Regional Centers
    • DDS oversees the coordination and delivery of services for Californians with developmental disabilities through a statewide network of 21 community-based, non-profit agencies known as regional centers. Regional centers provide assessments, determine eligibility for services, and offer case management services. Regional centers also develop, purchase, and coordinate the services in each person’s Individual Program Plan.
  • Family Resource Centers
    • Family Resource Centers (FRC) actively work in partnership with local regional centers and education agencies and help many parents, families and children get information about early intervention services and how to navigate the Early Start system.
  • Family Resource Network of California
    • The Family Resource Centers Network of California is a coalition that ensures staff at Early Start Family Resource Centers statewide are given opportunities to access cutting-edge professional development and enhanced connections with other professionals in the field.
  • For additional resources, please visit the Resources for Families, Parents & Caregivers webpage.

  • CDC Childhood Milestones Tracker: Track your child’s milestones from age 2 months to 5 years with CDC’s easy-to-use illustrated checklists; get tips from CDC for encouraging your child’s development; and find out what to do if you are ever concerned about how your child is developing.


  • John Hopkins Developmental Milestones: provides parents and caregivers examples of how to support their child’s learning, development and emotional security with lots of positive interaction and age-appropriate activities that practice specific skills.


  • Inclusive Early Education Resources
    • Resources provided by the California State Preschool Program (CSPP) to support inclusive policies and practices for early care and education.
  • IEEEP Grant for 2020-24
    • The purpose of the Inclusive Early Education Expansion Program (IEEEP) Grant is to increase access to inclusive early learning and care programs for children with disabilities, including children with severe disabilities.
  • Embedded Instruction for Early Learning
    • Embedded Instruction is an evidence-based multi-component approach for planning, implementing, and evaluating instruction for preschool children with disabilities in inclusive settings.

  • The Family Stories videos provide personal stories from families whose children have received Early Start services. Season One offers stories from four families: Samantha, Quimby, Oliver, and Hadley; Kaitlynn Troung, Leo, and Family; Amanda Smith, Haven, and Family; and Diamond, Greg, Justus, Jordan, Journey, and Jadyn Alexander.

San Diego Regional Center’s Child Find Initiatives – Coming Soon

  • IEEEP Grant for 2020-24
    • The IEEEP Grant was established for the purpose of increasing access to inclusive early learning and care programs, particularly in low-income and high-need communities, for children with disabilities, including children with severe disabilities.
  • California Department of Education
    • The California Department of Education’s, Early Education Division (EED) (in collaboration with the Special Education Division) supports three- and four-year-old children to access high-quality, inclusive education environments.
  • Transition Guide
    • This guide identifies both required elements for transition and recommended practices to support families and their children as they successfully navigate transition from Early Start to other services at age three.
  • Preschool IEP Tips and School Tour Checklist
    • Undivided is an organization focused on providing support to families raising children with disabilities and developmental delays. Undivided’s long-term goal isn’t just to help individual families but to change the way all families access services for their kids. The Preschool IEP Tips and School Tour Checklist is one of many resources Undivided offers to support families navigating services, specifically for searching for a school and preparing for an IEP.

The Family Outcomes Survey focuses on the helpfulness of early intervention. Your feedback is crucial so the department can learn about your experience and improve the Early Start program.

If you would like to share your experience with California’s Early Start program, please click on the link below to access a brief survey. Please enter your child’s date of birth, zip code, ethnicity and unique client identifier (UCI) at the top of the form. If you are unsure of your child’s UCI, please reach out to your service coordinator.

Family Outcomes Survey

If you have any questions or if you need help completing the survey, please call 800 – 515 – BABY (800 – 515 – 2229) or earlystart@dds.ca.gov.

Training & Technical Assistance

  • The Early Start Neighborhood provides a virtual community for Early Start professionals, partners, parents and caregivers seeking information, resources, training, and technical assistance on early intervention, Part C requirements, implementation, and evidence-based practices.
  • Early Start Neighborhood

The Early Start service system was implemented in 1993 under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to enhance and coordinate quality early intervention services for eligible infants and toddlers (birth – three years of age) and their families in California. The delivery of quality early intervention services envisioned by Part C of IDEA requires that personnel are qualified and appropriately trained to provide those services to eligible infants and toddlers and their families.The Department of Developmental Services’ (DDS) Early Start Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) provides the framework for coordinating the delivery of personnel development activities throughout California. DDS contracts with the WestEd Center for Prevention and Early Intervention to facilitate the implementation of CSPD projects.The California Early Intervention Technical Assistance Network (CEITAN) provides online training for early intervention service coordinators, service providers, specialists, administrators, and other early intervention personnel. Early Start Online Training includes:

  • Foundations Series
  • Skill Base Series

Early Start Foundations and Skill Builders have been designed to provide service providers and service coordinators with an early intervention curriculum which addresses the many requirements and needs considered critical for the delivery of appropriate early intervention services.

For registration information go to: WestEd Online Registration

The following CSPD projects are collaborative efforts of DDS and interagency community partners.

  • Supporting Early Education Delivery Systems (SEEDS) contracted by CDE through Sacramento County Office of Education, SEEDS provides technical assistance to early childhood agencies from their network of consultants and visitation sites. Visitation sites have been identified as demonstrating exemplary practices in early childhood special education.
  • Training and Technical Assistance Collaborater (TTAC) is a group of individuals that are a collaboration of interagency partnerships in California dedicated to delivering quality personnel development activities for children birth-5 with disabilities and other special needs and their families. They have developed and promoted core messages PDF for effective training and technical assistance.

For more information about these projects please contact: WestEd Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Telephone: 916-492-4048

Additional training opportunities that support personnel development in California:

Additional technical assistance:

Early Start Laws and Regulations


  • California Early Start was developed in response to federal legislation authorizing states to maintain and implement statewide interagency systems that provide early intervention services. The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities was enacted in 1986 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 20; U.S.C., Section 1431 et seq.). IDEA, Part C, was reauthorized by Congress in 1997 with the law becoming effective July 1, 1998. Final federal regulations became effective in March of 1999 and are found in Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 303. More information on these laws and regulations can be found at The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.
  • California Early Intervention Services Act (CEISA) established state authority to develop an early intervention service system that was congruent with federal requirements. The California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) plans, develops, implements, and monitors the statewide early intervention services system in collaboration with the California Department of Education (CDE), and with advice and assistance from the State Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC). The Departments of Public Health, Health Care Services, and Social Services cooperate and coordinate with DDS and CDE in the delivery of early intervention services.
  • This document was updated in 2023. It is a compilation of the federal and state statutes and regulations, below, that authorize, fund, and regulate Early Start.


  • Early Start Program Guidance Materials
    • Early Start has a variety of outreach materials available that increase appropriate referrals, increase the community’s knowledge and understanding of early intervention services, and support families’ role in early intervention.

Regional Center Projects Focusing on Early Childhood

The Department of Developmental Services receives Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds for regional centers to develop and oversee innovative projects. These projects focus on treatment for children and families with mental health diagnoses. The following projects focused on mental health for young children and their families:

FY 2021-2023

Redwood Coast Regional Center: Families and Supports Together (F.A.S.T.)

Redwood Coast Regional Center, in collaboration with several local agencies, will target improved social and emotional development in children birth to age five. Participating agencies include Easter Seals to implement early intervention programs, North Coast Nature Center to provide Incredible Years training, Autism Intervention Professionals for behavior consultation, and RL Therapies for speech and ancillary therapy.

This project will:

  • Host events and trainings to build workforce capacity in social and emotional development;
  • Provide monthly virtual Parent Academies to families in rural areas in both Spanish and English to educate parents on social emotional development skill building; and
  • Develop and implement programs for children up to five years of age who demonstrate a significant delay in social and emotional functioning.

Area served: Mendocino County, Lake County, Humboldt County, and Del Norte County

  • State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP)
    • The SSIP is a multi-year plan that comprises three phases intended to improve the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers in the Early Start program.

  • Annual Part C Grant Application
    • Annually, DDS submits the Part C grant application to the federal government, which addresses the State budget for California’s statewide system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers (birth to three years of age).

  • Early Start Local Performance Materials
    • In accordance with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C, the Department of Developmental Services is required to report on the performance of each local program compared to the state targets in the State Performance Plan
  • Early Start State Performance Reports
    • Information pertaining to the Annual Performance Report (APR), Monitoring Reports, and Early Start Local Performance materials.

  • Regional Center Directives
    • DDS frequently distributes directives to regional centers that provide guidance and instruction on a variety of policy issues, which are posted to the DDS website.

  • Interagency Coordinating Council (Quarterly Early Start Public Meeting)
    • The ICC convenes every four months utilizing an interagency collaboration to promote and enhance a coordinated family service system for infants and toddlers, ages birth to three years, who have, or are at risk for having, a disability, and their families.
  • SSIP Task Force (Stakeholders Assigned to Identify Areas to Improve Child and Family Outcomes)
    • The SSIP Task Force was established in 2014, consisting of a diverse group of stakeholders assigning the  the Department of Developmental Services in analyzing available data and information and determined the areas for focused improvement and resulting strategies that would result in improved child and family outcomes.
  • Annual Part C Grant Application Public Input (60-day Public Input Period on Utilization of Funds for the Early Start Program)
    • Prior to DDS submitting the Part C grant application to the federal government, the application is posted for 60 days to ensure public input is received.
  • Calendar of all DDS Public Meetings


Last modified: June 20, 2024