Pass or Fail: Early Intervention Procedures

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

What seems to be the largest challenge facing early intervention programs? Of the various administrative issues that impact early intervention procedures, funding is crucial, as are the logistics of service delivery.

In the United States, federal funding and legislation support mandatory early-education programs in every state. A formal system of early intervention is clearly regulated via legislation, and has led to a substantial increase in the number of services available to children with disabilities. These services are, however, often not meted out fairly. Moreover, services can be difficult to access.

A Picture of Real-World Intervention

In a New York Times piece, Lena and Robert Serpico describe their experiences with their son, whom they had taken in, along with his brother, as a foster child. Early on it was clear that the boy had difficulties. He was restless and had problems focusing. Like so many other restless kids in elementary school, he was put on Ritalin, which seemed to help for a time. He started doing better in school, picked up the guitar, and became involved in sports. However, things changed when he turned fourteen, perhaps not coincidentally, about the time he started dating. He attempted suicide and threatened to try again.

The Serpicos took their son to various psychiatrists, and he was diagnosed with everything from depression to bipolar disorder. They tried various therapies and drugs, yet nothing helped. He began to slack off at school, and was then placed in a recommended day therapy clinic. He was kicked out for bringing a weapon to a session. Another clinic was tried, and he was again kicked out, this time for refusing to participate, saying “It’s useless all this stuff. It’s a waste of my time.”

Finally, it seemed that their only option was to put their son in long-term residential care. However, these services cost from $10,000 to $60,000 per month, far more than they could afford. They tried to have insurance pay for the care, but were refused repeatedly. Mrs. Serpico said, “I called the insurance company nonstop for two straight days, begging and pleading for help. I finally got through to a decision maker and said that if my son is released home and dies, it will be on your conscience.”

Extreme Interventions

The Serpicos’ son was finally admitted to a residential care home but on a week-by-week basis. Two months later he was back at home, unchanged. Finally, after hiring a lawyer, they managed to get their troubled child into a government-sponsored therapeutic home in Montana for a year.

Though the difficulties outlined above may seem extreme, their experience is not that unusual. Lower-income families often lack the emotional, as well as financial, resources to deal with children who do not fit into the system, and for whom only drastic intervention seems to work.

Intervention Abroad

Other countries, have not made early intervention services a universal requirement. Indeed, Canada does not have early intervention legislation at the federal level, although one of the reasons for this is that education programs are governed by the provinces rather than through federal law. The primary focus of early intervention services in Canada is on tracking children through data collection. Based on the review of information and the specific needs of different regions, Canadian early-intervention agencies then provide funding, resources, and specific services.

In an ideal scenario, all children, regardless of age or severity of development delay, would be eligible for services at as early an age as possible. Students entering school would experience an easy transition from the early interventions previously received, to the new school environment. Intervention approaches would be similar in nature and completely uninterrupted. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

What changes would need to be made to our education and healthcare system to ensure care was provided to all children, regardless of their developmental struggles? What could be done so that early intervention therapists and elementary educators worked together to provide cohesive service plans?

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