What is Early Start?

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.

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Family Stories

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.


The California Early Start FAQ has been created to answer frequently asked questions related to access and referrals, services and supports, eligibility, and transition after age 3. If you need additional information about Early Start services or if you have additional questions call (800) 515-BABY or e-mail us at earlystart@dds.ca.gov.

Infants and toddlers from birth to age 36 months may be eligible for early intervention services through Early Start if, through documented evaluation and assessment, they meet one of the criteria listed below:

  • have a developmental delay of at least 25% in one or more areas of cognitive, communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development including vision and hearing; or
  • have an established risk condition of known etiology, with a high probability of resulting in delayed development; or
  • be considered at high risk of having a substantial developmental disability due to a combination of biomedical risk factors of which are diagnosed by qualified personnel

California Government Code: Section 95014(a)

California Code of Regulations: Title 17, Chapter 2, Section 52022

Based on the child’s assessed developmental needs and the families concerns and priorities as determined by each child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team, early intervention services may include:

  • assistive technology
  • audiology
  • family training, counseling, and home visits
  • health services
  • medical services for diagnostic/evaluation purposes only
  • nursing services
  • nutrition services
  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy
  • psychological services
  • service coordination (case management)
  • sign language and cued language services
  • social work services
  • special instruction
  • speech and language services
  • transportation and related costs
  • vision services

Anyone can make a referral, including parents, medical care providers, neighbors, family members, foster parents, and day care providers.

The first step that parents may take is to discuss their concerns with their health care provider/doctor. You can also call the local regional center or school district to request an evaluation for the child.

If the child has a visual impairment, hearing impairment, or severe orthopedic impairment, or any combination of these, contact the school district for evaluation and early intervention services.

After contacting the regional center or local education agency, a service coordinator will be assigned to help the child’s parents through the process to determine eligibility.

Parent-to-parent support and resource information is also available through Early Start Family Resource Centers.

Within 45-days the regional center or local education area shall:

  • Assign a service coordinator to assist the family through evaluation and assessment procedures.
  • Parental consent for evaluation is obtained.
  • Schedule and complete evaluations and assessments of the child’s development.
  • If an infant or toddler is eligible for early intervention services, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) will be developed that addresses the strengths, and needs of the infant or toddler, parental concerns, and early intervention services.
  • Identify early intervention services that are provided in the family home or other community settings.

Early intervention services that are needed for each eligible infant or toddler are purchased or arranged by a regional center or a local education agency.

Family Resource Centers provide family support services.

There is no cost for evaluation, assessment and service coordination. Public or private insurance is accessed for medically necessary therapy services including speech, physical and occupational therapies. Services that are not covered by insurance will be purchased or provided by regional centers or local education agencies.

An Annual Family Program Fee may be assessed in some circumstances.

Call your local regional center, local educational agency, or family resource center for resource information or a referral to Early Start services. If you need additional information about how to get Early Start services call (800) 515-BABY or e-mail us at earlystart@dds.ca.gov.


Last modified: November 21, 2023