State budgetary cuts have garnered much attention in Montana recently. As pediatricians, we have great concern over any proposal to eliminate the Part C, Early Intervention Program. The Part C, Early Intervention Program, exists in every state in the union.
Early intervention is a system of services that helps babies and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities (such as Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy) by providing screenings, evaluations, and a family-directed assessment along with interventions to enhance a family’s capacity to meet the developmental needs of their child. In Montana, EI services are available to children ages 0-3 in every county. Part C was established by Congress in 1986, and Montana was one of the first states to adopt it.
In many aspects, Montana has been a pioneer; however, leading the nation as the only state without early intervention would be embarrassing for our state and devastating for our children.
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We understand that the state is facing declining revenues and that difficult decisions must be made. However, it is short-sighted to eliminate a program with a proven return on investment.
Early Intervention affects a child at a critical point of development, and the benefits can last a lifetime. A study of babies born prematurely found that by the time those children were 18 years old, the children who participated in EI had better academic performance, were less likely to drop out and had fewer risky behaviors. A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis estimated the annual rate of return on early childhood development programs was between 7 and 18 percent when adjusted for inflation. These returns include more efficient use of school services (less special education) and less use of criminal justice and other public systems. Here in Montana, we know that 67 percent of children who receive Part C early intervention do not go into special education preschool upon leaving the program.
Eliminating Part C, Early Intervention will negatively impact some of our state’s most vulnerable children. While cutting Part C, Early Intervention may help reduce the budget deficit in the short-term, it will end up costing Montanans even more down the road. Early intervention is good for children and good for society. Montana policy makers, please do not cut the Part C, Early Intervention Program.