What is Child Find? Child Find is the continuous process of public awareness activities, screening activities, and evaluations of children, with the purpose of locating, identifying, and evaluating children with disabilities as early as possible. According to IDEA 2004 federal special education law, Child Find means we have the responsibility to "find" children with disabilities, including those who are homeless or wards of the State, and regardless of the severity of the disabilities. Public school districts are legally mandated to "find" children with disabilities from ages 3 to 21, and arrange to have services provided as needed. Although this mandate is for school districts, we as preschool providers need to assist school districts in this mandate by passing on any information about suspected disabilities to them in the form of special education referrals. We do not want to hinder a child from receiving help, because research has shown that the earlier the services are given to address the child's needs, the more effective the services will be.
It is well established that the rate of human learning and development is most rapid in the preschool years. Preschool special education services have been correlated with higher school achievement, lower rates of school dropout, lower rates of juvenile arrest for violent and non-violent charges, a lower incidence of teenage pregnancy, and a higher rate of declassification from special education services. When special education services are provided as soon as possible, the child will often need fewer services later on. These effects have been shown to be significant for children from low-income families.
Quality preschool special education services also improve the functioning of the family. The family of a young exceptional child often feels additional stress when a child's skills are delayed. Parents may experience feelings of disappointment, social isolation, frustration, or helplessness. When there is a child with a disability in the family, there may be more disagreements in the marriage and more incidence of depression. Early special education services can produce improved family attitudes about themselves and their child, and provide helpful information and parenting skills for working with their child at home.
Preschool children with disabilities may receive a variety of programming. They could attend a segregated special education class; an integrated classroom (Family Enrichment Network presently has eight integrated classrooms); or have SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) services, which is where the special education teacher goes to the child's home, day care setting, or preschool classroom. Preschool children with disabilities could also have one or a combination of related services. Related services may include speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, parent training, or other appropriate support services.
When a child with suspected disabilities is "found," after discussing your concerns with the child's parents, the next step is a referral to special education to the school district. The school district's special education office will then contact the parents for consent for the required evaluations, since before a child can be identified with disabilities, evaluations need to be completed. A psychological is required, but there may also be speech/language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or other evaluations, when appropriate. There are strict state guidelines for eligibility for special education services, and the evaluation scores must meet these eligibility requirements. The areas that may be considered are cognitive abilities, speech and language skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, adaptive skills (such as feeding, dressing, and toileting), and behavior skills. Children with outside evaluations for a diagnosed disability, such as autism spectrum disorder, may also be eligible for preschool special education services.
If you are a parent, and you are concerned about your preschool child's development, we encourage you to talk with your child's preschool teacher about your child's needs. Your child's teacher may have similar concerns, and may suggest strategies to help your child. Your child's teacher may want to put in a referral for your child for evaluations and special education services. Parents, of course, may refer their child directly at any time. Once their child has been evaluated and recommendations have been made, parents have the option of accepting or refusing the services.
If your child is 3 to 5 years old, you may contact the Committee on Preschool Special Education at the public school where your child would be going to school, and discuss your concerns for your child and request the evaluations. If your child is younger than 3 years old, you may contact the Broome County Health Department, Children with Special Needs, Early Intervention Program, 225 Front Street, Binghamton, New York, at 778-2823.
As preschool providers, we need to ensure that all children who are in need of services are located, referred, and identified, so that these children will receive appropriate educational programming to support their learning and development as early as possible.