President Office — Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2015
Legislation to Improve Early Steps/Early Intervention Services for Florida Children with Unique Abilities Passes First Senate Committee
The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, chaired by Senator Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), today introduced and passed Senate Proposed Bill (SPB) 7034, Prenatal Services and Early Childhood Development. The legislation improves the Early Steps program to better serve infants and toddlers who have developmental delays.
“The Early Steps program and the early intervention services it provides are critical to establishing Florida’s complete cradle to career pathway to economic independence for people with unique abilities,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando). “Last year, the Legislature significantly increased recurring funding for this important work. The key policy improvements in this legislation will make certain effective services are available for children in need at a time when it is going to make the biggest difference in their lives.”
“This legislation creates performance standards and accountability measures for the Early Steps Program,” continued President Gardiner. “The legislation will also improve early identification, expand eligibility, implement statewide planning, provide for better coordination of available resources, and establish procedures for children to successfully transition to school district services when they age out of the Early Steps program.”
SPB 7034 establishes clear goals for the Early Steps Program. The program goals include: enhancing the development of infants and toddlers; increasing the awareness among parents and health care providers of the importance of the first three years of life for the development of the brain; maintaining the importance of the family in early intervention services; providing comprehensive and coordinated services; and, ensuring timely evaluation of infants and toddlers and provide individual planning for intervention services, among others. The bill further establishes performance standards for the program relating to services and referrals, individualized family support plans, and outcomes for infants and toddlers served.
The legislation also establishes eligibility for the Early Steps program. The eligibility criteria is based on federal law and funds are appropriated by the General Appropriations Act. All infant and toddlers are eligible for evaluation for developmental disabilities. Infants and toddlers with a developmental disability based on a specific condition or based on an informed clinical opinion are eligible. In addition, infants and toddlers with a specific score on a standardized evaluation instrument are eligible for Early Steps.
SB 7034 requires the Department of Health (DOH) to establish performance measures and standards to evaluate local Early Step offices, provide guidance to local program offices for coordinating Early Step program benefits with other programs such as Medicaid and private insurance, and to report each year to the Governor and Legislature on the performance of the Early Steps program.
Under the bill, the Department of Health (DOH) will also develop a statewide plan for the program. DOH will ensure that screening is continued at hospitals providing certain levels of neonatal intensive care, establish standards and qualifications for service providers used by the program, develop uniform procedures to determine eligibility for the program, provide a statewide format for individualized family support plans, and promote interagency cooperation with the Medicaid program and the Department of Education, among other responsibilities.
Florida’s Early Steps Program is founded in federal law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just like other children.
The Early Steps Program (Part C of the IDEA) provides services to families with infants and toddlers from birth to three years of age who have or who are at risk of developmental delays or disabilities. The program has no financial eligibility requirements and is an entitlement to any eligible child. Florida’s Early Steps Program is administered by Children’s Medical Services within the DOH. The DOH contracts with hospitals and non-profit organizations across the state for coordination and delivery of services.
For more information on Senate Proposed Bill 7034 and the Senate effort to create a cradle to career pathway to economic independence for people with unique abilities, please visit www.FLSenate.gov.
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