Early Steps Program

Early Steps is a Children's Medical Services program provided by the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville department of pediatrics.

What is a developmental delay?

When a child does not gain new skills and abilities at the same pace and timing that other children do, that child is said to have a "developmental delay." Parents may be the first to notice their child is not progressing like other children. Developmental delays vary widely in their severity and the impact they have later in life.

How do I find out if my child has a developmental delay?

Contact Northeastern Early Steps at (904) 427-7600 to speak with our intake service coordinator. She will talk with you about your concerns for your child and work with you to make arrangements for a developmental screening or evaluation. If you prefer, you may ask your pediatrician or family physician to make the referral to Early Steps. Once the referral is received, our intake service coordinator will contact you directly.

What is the purpose of a screening or an evaluation?

Developmental screenings and evaluations compare children's skills and abilities to other children of the same age. Evaluations are a very important tool in the process of determining eligibility for the Northeastern Early Steps program. Results from testing are also used by parents and Northeastern Early Steps' staff to guide decision-making about what early intervention services and supports would be best for helping children make developmental progress.

Who is eligible to participate in the Early Steps program?

Children who demonstrate a significant developmental delay as measured through standardized developmental testing or who are at risk of developmental delay because of a medical or psychological diagnosis are eligible for services through the Early Steps program. Eligibility for the program is not based on family income.

Once my child is eligible for the Northeastern Early Steps program, what happens next?

Each family is assigned a service coordinator when they make an appointment for a developmental evaluation. The service coordinator becomes the family's primary point of contact throughout their time in the program. The service coordinator will facilitate decision-making about early intervention services and supports and connect families to the service providers with whom they will be working.

Early intervention service providers may be physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists or infant toddler developmental specialists. Once providers receive a referral, they contact families directly to schedule. Services should occur in children's natural environments – the places where they live, learn and play every day. Sessions will focus on improving each child's ability to be successful within the routines and activities that are going on in their homes or daycares.

Why is Early Steps at no cost to the family?

Once eligibility for Early Steps is established, early intervention services are available at no cost to the family. These services are paid for through a combination of federal and state monies dedicated to that purpose each year through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Prior to accessing these funds, however, Northeastern Early Steps is required to access families' insurance for payment. If the insurer denies the claim, Early Steps will pay. Additionally, Early Steps contracts with providers who agree not to charge co-pays or co-insurance to families for services authorized on their individualized family support plans.

What happens when toddlers turn 3 years old?

Although services with Early Steps end when a child turns three years old, we begin planning for that day when children are around two years of age. Working with their service coordinator, families explore their local Head Start programs, daycares, mother's morning out programs and preschools to develop a plan best suited for the family and child. Some families choose to access the resources available to eligible children through their local public school system. Early Steps can set up a meeting between school district representatives and interested families, provide updated testing and help insure eligible children have an individualized education plan (IEP) in place by their third birthdays so there is no lapse in services.

Does Early Steps have a parent support program?

The families who are eligible for the Northeastern Early Steps program have access to family resource specialists, who are parents of children with special needs. Their unique perspectives and experiences as parents make them a wealth of information for Early Steps families. They help families locate additional information, services and products, plan social and training events and host monthly play groups in Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties.