Press Release

Trends in pandemic service delivery show the global health crisis has exacerbated issues with developmental screening and services

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2021) — While early intervention is the key to setting children with delays and disabilities on a path to long-term success, a new report from The Education Trust, ZERO TO THREE, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated equity and access issues for Black and Latino youngsters and those from low-income backgrounds and calls for state policymakers to leverage American Rescue Plan funding to close gaps.

The report, Our Youngest Learners – Impact of COVID-19 on Early Intervention: Survey of States, and accompanying materials, provide results from a national survey of state coordinators of early intervention services. The survey compiles responses from early intervention coordinators in 29 states and identifies ways that COVID-19 is affecting early intervention services, including the following trends:

  • Referral rates for early intervention services dropped during the pandemic
  • Wait times for services increased during the pandemic
  • Overall, fewer children received early intervention services during the pandemic
  • In many states, the available data are inadequate for monitoring equity in early intervention

The survey responses shine a light on how the global health crisis has affected screening and service delivery, further underscoring the importance of addressing equity gaps that predated the pandemic. Early intervention screening and services provide families with crucial support and resources when their young child isn’t hitting key developmental milestones on time. Included in Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal law requires that all children aged birth to 3 years old are entitled to these services. However, available data on early intervention access and services tell us that children of color and children from low-income backgrounds face inequities in accessing these services.

“Before the pandemic, we knew that the disparities in early intervention services meant the resources many White and upper-income families depend on for support were not readily accessible to eligible families of color and low-income families,” said Carrie Gillispie, Ed.D., senior research associate at The Education Trust. “This past year, early intervention services were so disrupted for already underserved families. This is a moment for necessary course correction.”

The existing data show the following inequities:

  • Black and Latino children tend to be identified as eligible for these vital services later than their White peers. Too often, students of color do not receive the evaluations and services for which they qualify, according to studies conducted in cities and states across the country.
  • While rates varied from state to state, ZERO TO THREE’s 2020 State of Babies Yearbook found that babies in families above low income were 26% more likely to have a developmental screening than babies from low-income backgrounds.
  • Compared to their White peers with developmental delays, Black children with developmental delays are 44% less likely to be identified as such and receive services; Latino children with developmental delays are 78% less likely to be recognized as such and receive services

While the available data tells states there’s work to do, we cannot see the complete picture of inequities children face in accessing early intervention services. “Even in states with the political will to address inequities in access and services, inconsistencies in the way data is captured and reported obscure the real-time information states need to fix equity gaps,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, Ph.D., ZERO TO THREE’s chief policy officer.

Screening and services being delayed during the pandemic also mean states can expect an increase in referral rates over the coming months and next few years.

“The funding in the American Rescue Plan provides a real opportunity for states to not just address pandemic-related delays in crucial screening services, but to improve both data systems and service delivery in equity-focused ways across the nation,” said Meghan Whittaker, Esq., director of policy and advocacy, National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Specifically, the report calls on state policymakers to:

  • Improve data collection and use
  • Strengthen implementation of Child Find, the federal legal requirement that all states identify children who are eligible for early intervention services
  • Issue guidance on reaching families that speak a language other than English at home and pandemic service delivery

Also released with the report examining the impact of COVID-19 on early intervention services are a report on the importance of an equity focus on improving early intervention services, related handouts, and a video explaining what early intervention services are. All materials can be found here.


About The Education Trust

The Education Trust is a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families. Through our research and advocacy, Ed Trust supports efforts that expand excellence and equity in education from preschool through college, increase college access and completion, particularly for underserved students, engage diverse communities dedicated to education equity, and increase political and public will to act on equity issues.


ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools, and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals, and policymakers. For more information and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit,, or follow @zerotothree on Twitter.

About National Center for Learning Disabilities

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is a Washington, DC-based national policy, advocacy, and research organization that works to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues — by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools, and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.