During the 2018-2019 school year, over 18% of our Illinois student population, ages 3 to 21, were identified with a disability, allowing them to participate in special education programming and services to help them be successful in school. But what can families do when they are concerned about a child who is not yet old enough for school? Families can contact Illinois’ Early Intervention Program, a system serving infants and toddlers up to 36 months who are experiencing developmental delays or who have diagnosed conditions that may lead to developmental delays.

Research shows the first three years of life are critical to an individual’s development yet growing and learning doesn’t happen the same way for every child. Your child may do things later or differently than others his or her age. Families concerned about how a child crawls, walks, talks, understands, responds, sees or hears may benefit from Early Intervention services. The key to optimal development is to assess and understand a child’s abilities and needs and then get linked to services at the earliest age possible.

Illinois’ 25 Child & Family Connections offices are the point of entry into the federal Early Intervention system. Early Intervention is a program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Our local office, CFC #1, is funded through the Youth Services Network based in Rockford to serve families residing in Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties with a second office in Princeton to serve families residing in Bureau, Marshall and Putnam counties.

Referrals can be placed by anyone: family members, the medical community or the educational community, including a child’s day care provider. After a referral is made, a caring and knowledgeable service coordinator will meet with the family to explain parents’ rights and help determine what evaluations and assessments will be provided by qualified professionals at no cost to the family.

If the family desires to proceed, their service coordinator will arrange for appropriate evaluations that will determine eligibility for Early Intervention. If the child is eligible and parents have given consent, the team will assist in developing an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) linking families to the appropriate services and supports to help their child learn and grow. Fees for ongoing services are determined on a sliding scale dependent upon family size and income.

Every Child & Family Connections office has additional resources available for families that include Parent Liaison Services, Social/Emotional Consultation and Coordinated Local Interagency Council support.

The parent liaison provides links to other parents with common concerns and experiences, offers additional support options throughout the community, and assures that provided services are family-centered. The parent liaison is a parent who has had a child go through Early Intervention.

The social/emotional consultant supports Early Intervention staff and providers by identifying families and children who would benefit from specialized assessments and interventions in order to address behavioral and mental health concerns.

The LIC coordinator assures that physicians, day care providers and other referral sources to the Early Intervention system have knowledge about the system and when to refer. The LIC coordinator also participates in many community events to promote Early Intervention in the community.

If you have concerns about a young child in your life, please call Child & Family Connections #1 at 815-986-1947 to begin the referral process. Illinois’ Early Intervention motto is “The Sooner We Start, The Further They’ll Go!” Beginning early benefits your child, your family and your community!

Lynn Doolittle and Lynne Riley, Child & Family Connections