First Steps is an important program for infants and toddlers with cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, and other special needs. As a parent, it is important to know what First Steps is, how your child can receive services, and why First Steps is currently making news.
What Is First Steps?
First Steps is the name of Kentucky’s early intervention system. Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) requires all states that receive federal money for special education to provide an early intervention program for children up to age three who qualify for the program.
Early intervention for babies and their families is important for each individual child’s growth and development. The exact services that are needed for each child and family are determined on an individual basis, but may include therapies and services for cognitive delays, communication delays, gross motor delays, fine motor delays, social or emotional issues, and other needs. Services may be provided in the child’s natural environment—such as his home or daycare—or in a clinical setting.
How Do I Get My Child Involved in First Steps?
In order to receive services through the First Steps program, your child must qualify for such services. Here is a brief overview of how the eligibility process works:
- First you, your pediatrician, or someone else will make a referral to First Steps.
- Within five working days of that referral being received, you should be contacted by First Steps to set up an initial meeting, and within fifteen working days of that referral you should receive a written letter from First Steps.
- During the initial visit from First Steps, the program should be explained to you. Additionally, you will be asked for information about your child.
- The next step will be an evaluation and assessment to determine if your child has either a developmental delay or qualifies for automatic entry into the program because of a specific diagnosis.
- After the evaluation and assessment are complete, a team meeting should be held to discuss your child’s eligibility.
- If your child is eligible for services, then an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) should be developed with specific goals and services to meet your child’s needs.
- Once the IFSP is developed, then it will begin to be implemented.
- You should receive a formal update on your child’s progress at least every six months, and you should meet at least once a year to review the IFSP.
- As your child approaches three years of age, transition meetings should be held to discuss his exit from the First Steps program and his possible entry into other programs such as special education.
What Kind of Services Does First Steps Provide?
The services that your child receives will be determined by the team that develops the IFSP and will be specifically included in the IFSP. Depending on your child’s unique needs, your child may receive:
- Physical therapy.
- Occupational therapy.
- Speech and language therapy.
- Specialized instruction.
- Other services.
The specific goals for each service, the amount of time your child should receive each service, and the type of service provider who is providing the service should be clearly written into the IFSP. Additionally, the IFSP may include family education and training.
Are Changes Ahead for Kentucky’s First Steps Program?
Seven Counties is one provider of First Steps services in Kentucky. According to a recent article in the Courier-Journal, Seven Counties may lose its state contract in the coming months.
We would hope the politics of Frankfort will not harm a very beneficial program for our state's children in need. If the transition to another First Steps provider is smooth and based upon legitimate concerns over our citizens’ health, then it’s possible this change may actually be to the benefit of children in our area.
On the other hand, if the history of Frankfort politics is a measuring stick, there is great concern that this decision to terminate contracts with Seven Counties is purely based on politics and not the best interest of the children. There are many strong and positive relationships between families and their teams at Seven Counties that are at grave risk of being disrupted at a delicate and crucial point in the early lives of children with special needs. We hope that the Commonwealth of Kentucky ensures that our youngest citizens continue to receive the high-quality care they deserve without interruption.