Policy Clearinghouse

Early Intervention Services

Early Intervention Services positively impacts these strategy goals:


Early Intervention services are an effective state strategy to impact:

Participation in Early Intervention services can improve children’s cognitive, motor, behavioral, and language development, especially for infants born preterm or low birthweight, for whom the most rigorous research exists. Less causal evidence exists to support impacts on parent outcomes, but the research suggests mixed effects that lean in the beneficial direction. The current evidence base for Early Intervention focuses primarily on the developmental benefits that services can produce for infants and toddlers, rather than examining the impacts of a specific state-level policy.

Early Intervention (EI) services support the healthy development of infants and toddlers who have developmental delays, medical conditions or disabilities, or various environmental or social risk factors for delays. EI programs are implemented at the state level but are governed and partially funded by Part C of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Access to EI services, such as speech therapy to address language delays or physical therapy for motor challenges, can improve an infant’s or toddler’s developmental trajectory. These services may prevent further delays and reduce the need for special education services or more intensive supports when children are older. Family-centered services can help parents and caregivers develop skills to interact with their infant or toddler in ways that will foster healthy development.

State EI programs vary considerably in their eligibility criteria, the administrative agency managing the program, the funding mechanisms, and the percentage of children under age 3 who are served, among other aspects. The federal IDEA legislation requires that all children determined to be eligible for EI receive evidence-based services, but states continue to face challenges identifying and serving all children who may benefit from EI, largely as a result of insufficient funding and personnel shortages.

Peer-reviewed research does not currently offer clear guidance regarding the optimal funding mechanism or state policy lever for maximizing enrollment, but the evidence does support EI services as an effective strategy to improve child development and parent wellbeing, especially among children born premature or low birthweight. State innovations to maximize funding for EI services (e.g., coordinating closely with state Medicaid agencies or establishing private insurance mandates) have been shown to support greater enrollment in EI in some states.

Download the Complete Evidence Review

Early Intervention Services Evidence Review (PDF)

Recommended Citation:
Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center. (2023). Prenatal-to-3 policy clearinghouse evidence review: Early Intervention services (ER 11D.0923). Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University.

Updated September 2023

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