Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

early support infants and toddlers

Newborn, premature twin girls asleep side by side in a special care nursery crib. iStock.com

Leg 2024: Ensuring early support for 0 to 2

Bill would ensure kids with delays/disabilities get services early

We knew my son was neurotypical from the get-go. As in weeks after his birth two decades ago. 

Aidan never made eye contact, not even when he was nursing. Not in those early weeks, not ever. He was fussy – beyond colic fussy. He startled easily, reacted to any and all noises, and was slow to meet several developmental milestones. When he started crawling (later than expected), he was decidedly left-sided, dragging his right side like a beloved toy. Something wasn’t right. We knew. We were already parents to an almost-2-year-old who hit each milestone ahead of schedule.

early support infants and toddlers

Photo from ESIT Guiding Concepts video.

Early intervention

Thankfully, when Aidan was not quite two years old, our pediatrician finagled an assessment at the Center for Human Development and Disability (CHDD) at the University of Washington. CHDD is the region’s premier center for developmental research and testing. While he was too young for an autism diagnosis, the experts there stamped pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) in his chart. A few years later, that diagnosis rolled over into Autism Spectrum Disorder. But that PPD stamp was enough to make Aidan eligible for entrance into a developmental preschool program at age 2. Generally, preschool starts at age 3 or 4. 

I – and my now-25-year-old son — credit that early intervention and all the support it garnered from the caring, competent, highly skilled teachers at Shoreline’s Wonderland Center with the fully engaged, self-supporting, rooted autistic man he is today. 

A bill to expand ESIT program

This year in Olympia, lawmakers are considering a bill that would increase the number of children served by the state’s Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program – the program launched in the 1980s and which allowed my son to attend Wonderland’s developmental preschool program. ESIT’s mission is to ensure kids born prematurely or with disabilities get the strongest start in life.

House Bill (HB 1916), sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), will ensure that families and providers can make the most of a child’s first three years when opportunities to enhance brain and body development are significant. The bill guarantees sufficient funding for critical support services, including needed therapies and early preschool. It safeguards against service reductions, aligns Washington with federal requirements for early support of developmentally delayed or disabled little ones, and underscores the importance of early intervention services for atypically developing kids. 

early support infants and toddlers

Photo from ESIT Guiding Concepts video.

Money spent is money saved

Why are early supports essential? Experts say that by getting services early to kids who would benefit from them, the state stands to save millions of dollars in more advanced disability care down the road. For example, many infants and toddlers who receive early intervention are saved from needing special education services.

“ESIT is the first step in the special education continuum,” said Senn. “These foundational interventions often lead to decreased or no further needs for special education. I call that smart, compassionate, and fiscally responsible investment.”

 Dr. Lisa Greenwald, CEO of Bellevue-based Kindering, added: “We know Early Supports not only help kids learn things like how to walk, talk, and swallow food; they also have lifelong positive impacts in terms of health and employment. As a matter of equity, and as a matter of science, we must invest in early special education for infants and toddlers and pass this bill.” Kindering is a comprehensive neurodevelopmental center for children experiencing developmental delays.

early support infants and toddlers

Photo from ESIT Guiding Concepts video.

Help for 13,196 little ones in 2025

The passage of HB 1916 would increase funding to the ESIT program from $140.1 million a year to $161.7 million, growing the capacity of ESIT by 3%. That means the program would serve 13,196 children in 2025. 

The bill, supporters say, will especially ensure funding is available for the most expensive first month of the program. It would also create more efficiency in the billing process for providers and the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) in administering the program. Equally important, the bill would help address staff retention for the program, which is currently struggling to retain providers.

HB 1916 passed out of the House Human Services, Youth & Early Learning Committee on January 12 on a unanimous vote. It is now being considered in the House Appropriations Committee. 

I see ESIT working every day

As someone who supports families in the first difficult weeks after the birth of a baby, I see many families whose children are eligible for the life-changing services provided by the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program. Not long ago, I had a client whose baby was born more than a month early. She’s had several challenges and has struggled to meet developmental milestones, but I feel confident that she will grow up to meet her full potential. Equally important, I am thrilled her parents have access to the care and support they need to help her thrive no matter where she sits on the neurological spectrum.

The Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program works. It is a safety net we need, one which will not only save the state money but also families many avoidable struggles and outcomes previously associated with disability.

Reach out to lawmakers

To make your voice known on this bill or any measure before the Washington State Legislature, go to the Washington State Legislature’s Information Center webpage.

Read more:

An agenda for children in 2024

SCOTUS won’t hear case against WA capital gains tax

State trust funds for low-income babies?

The case for a WA commission on boy and men

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.