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Early Intervention and Supports Policy

Policy Issue

The purpose of early intervention and support is to identify children with special needs as early as possible and to provide them with the supports and services they need to meet their physical growth and their social, emotional and intellectual development needs.

The lifelong benefits of early intervention programs for children with developmental disabilities are well documented. The earlier a child’s special needs can be identified and addressed, the more likely the child and family will experience meaningful results from intervention. Evidence shows that early intervention increases the developmental, educational and social gains for children and reduces the potential for secondary problems.

Another function of early intervention and support is to better allow families to understand their children and become actively involved in supporting their child’s development. When children and families receive support early on, family stress is often reduced with the result that families are better able to envision a more positive and optimistic future for their children.


To ensure that early intervention and support services are available when children and families need them.

Guiding Principles

  • Fostering the growth and development of children is one of society’s most important responsibilities.
  • All children should be treated as if they have unlimited potential to grow and develop.
  • Early intervention supports and services have a lasting benefit to children throughout their lives.
  • Families are central to a child’s healthy development; supporting the family is one of the most effective ways to support a child.
  • Services should be provided to children within the context of the family, with respect for the family’s values, beliefs and culture.
  • Services should be based on the needs of the child and family, not on a diagnosis.


Research has demonstrated the positive effects of early intervention. However, in British Columbia, many children and families sit on lengthy waitlists, missing or delaying the opportunity to fully benefit from early intervention support. Other children miss the opportunity for service because they don’t have a "label" or diagnosis that conveniently streams them into the service-delivery system. And some children cannot access services because the kind of early intervention therapy they require is neither paid for nor provided by the provincial government.

The intention of early intervention services is to provide them as soon as possible, once a child’s need has been identified. Identification and accessibility are therefore two components that are essential to a successful service delivery system. Early identification of children with special needs can be increased through public information campaigns, building awareness among physicians and other community service providers, and providing screening services to identify children. While much has been done in regards to health promotion for children and families, accessibility to services is still a problem, especially for poorer families and families whose first language is not English.

Navigating the service delivery system to find the service that will meet a child’s specific needs is also challenging for families. Systemic problems can mean that a significant amount of time may pass between when a problem is identified and when a service is provided -- a critical factor in the effectiveness of early intervention.

On September 30, 2010, the provincial government eliminated the provincial advisory office of the Infant Development Program. The office promoted and provided best practices, research, training, leadership and vision in the area of early childhood development, connecting families with each other and providing them with the best information available. The loss of the provincial offices was a shocking blow to families, consultants and children with special needs. The infant development program was linked provincially through the advisor's office to ensure that it is accessible to families no matter where they live in BC. Read BCACL's press release here.

In order to serve all children with special needs the service delivery system must:

  • have sufficient resources to provide early intervention and supports to children and families who need them when they are needed,
  • move towards a needs-based service that provides services based on needs rather than proof of significant functional deficits or a diagnosis, and
  • develop a service delivery system that can be easily identified and accessed by families.

BCACL will continue to monitor the progress and outcomes of government-sponsored early intervention and support initiatives, to ensure that early intervention and support remains a strong component of the policy framework and delivery system.

Policy Statements

  1. Early intervention services should be based on the needs of the child and family being served.
  2. Children who need extra support and service should be provided with early intervention services as soon as the need is identified.
  3. Children with special needs entering the school system should continue to receive needs-based services throughout their school years.
  4. Children should not be waitlisted for early intervention services.
  5. Early intervention programs should include a range of family / sibling support services.
  6. Government service providers have a responsibility to ensure that services and supports are easily identifiable and accessible to families.

* children with special needs: children who require extra support for their physical, intellectual, emotional, communicative, behavioral or social development.