Early Start and Preschool Programs

Preschool-aged students painting at a table with their teacher
Special Education Local Plan Areas serve students from birth to age 22.  Early Start Programs provide a variety of services to eligible children aged birth to three and their families throughout California.  Infants and toddlers from birth to age 36 months may be eligible for early intervention services through Early Start if, through documented evaluation and assessment, they meet one of the criteria listed below:

  • have a developmental delay of at least 33% in one or more areas of cognitive, communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development including vision and hearing; or
  • have an established risk condition of known etiology, with a high probability of resulting in delayed development; or
  • be considered at high risk of having a substantial developmental disability due to a combination of biomedical risk factors of which are diagnosed by qualified personnel

[Source: California Government Code: Section 95014(a); California Code of Regulations: Title 17, Chapter 2, Section 52022] 

The educational service team is composed of specialists who collaborate to meet the unique needs of the child. The team works with families to provide instruction and related services through the development of an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan). Services can include assessment, direct instruction, collaboration and support for families, deaf and hard of hearing services, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility services, speech therapy, transition planning, and visual impairment services.  Anyone can make a referral by calling their local regional center or SELPA office and speaking with an Early Start staff member.

Early childhood special education programs are also provided to every eligible student, starting on his or her 3rd birthday.  Programs are provided at the LEA, SELPA, and/or county office level depending on the particular organization of the continuum of options within the SELPA.  The type of programs can range from special day classes with a higher staff to student ratio; to general education classrooms with the integration of students with disabilities and additional special education teacher and/or paraprofessional support; to related services for students aged 3 to 5 with disabilities.

The State Performance Plan Indicators adopted by the State Board of Education indicate a clear preference for more inclusive preschool settings by re-benching targets for Preschool Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  SELPA Administrators of California have long advocated for increased and dedicated funding for infant-toddler and preschool programs, and we support cross-agency intervention and coordination to reduce barriers to making more inclusive preschool settings possible.  SELPA leaders on the Early Childhood Committee help members and their staff make sense of frequent changes in terminology, coding, and calculation of preschool LRE for the purposes of compliance monitoring (below).

Other Links and Resources


CDE Inclusive Early Education Resources - The California Department of Education website houses a rich collection of resources to address the issue that In California and nationwide, children with disabilities and their families continue to face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality preschool programs that can provide needed services. This page includes resources developed by the Impact Inclusion Workgroup, formed to lift, advocate for, and advance early childhood inclusive programs for children with disabilities in and across all sectors and systems in the state and tribes.

California Parent Organizations
List of California agencies providing resources for families of children with disabilities.

Parents Helping Parents - Early Childhood Information - The California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division, works closely with federal- and state-funded parent organizations to increase parent participation and collaboration between parents and educators to improve the educational system.  One particularly strong resource is from Parents Helping Parents.

Department of Developmental Services Early Start (Birth to Three Services)
A child with or at risk of developmental delay or disability can receive an "Early Start" in the State of California. The California Department of Developmental Services plans, develops, implements, and monitors the statewide early intervention services system in collaboration with the California Department of Education.

SELPA Presentation on Indicator 6 - Preschool LRE.  Below you will find the presentation slides and a new Decision Tree that was recently released. These changes were made to the Educational Setting Page and are housed in SEIS for those who use that program.