Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is the process of providing specialised support and services for infants and young children who have developmental delays or disabilities, their families and communities, in order to promote development, well-being and community participation.

All services are provided using a family-centred approach, recognising the importance of working in partnership with the family. Services are tailored to meet the individual needs of the child and focus on supporting the child in their natural environments and in their everyday experiences and activities.

Developmental delay describes a young child who is not achieving new skills within the expected age range.

Disability is a physical, sensory, intellectual or behavioural impairment which affects development.

Click here to download a self-paced tutorial for those wanting to know more about early childhood intervention (ECI). Families may find this a useful beginning in learning a little more about what ECI can offer them. It is also a useful resource for students, new staff members in ECIs, those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and other child and family environments.

There is also a presenter’s version of this resource, which includes notes accompanying the PowerPoint slides. It is designed for people wanting to give talks about ECI to families, community groups, students, or others interested in knowing more about ECI. This is available by contacting the ECIA NSW / ACT office.

Why is early childhood intervention important?

The early childhood years lay the foundation for all future development.

Recent scientific evidence shows that early experiences literally shape our lives by affecting the way the young brain develops. What happens to us in the early years has a major effect on our health and social development right through to adulthood.

We must therefore ensure that children’s early experiences are positive – that they have a secure foundation for development.

The early childhood years are just as important for children with disabilities and developmental delays as they are for all children. All their future development is based on the critical learning patterns laid down during this period.

The early years are also critical for the whole family. This is when families can best begin to learn how to support and nurture their child, how to meet their child’s needs, and how to adapt positively to having a child with a disability or a developmental delay.

What does early childhood intervention provide?

Early childhood intervention services are provided to children from birth to school entry and their families.

Early childhood intervention services may provide:

  • information and support that addresses the individual needs of the child and family
  • play-based education and therapy programmes based on the Individualised Family Service plan (IFSP) and Individual Educational Plan (IEP)
  • standardised and play-based assessments for children
  • transition support for children and their families to the next educational setting
  • facilitated family support groups
  • linking families to services and providing access and co-ordination of services
  • collaboration with local early childhood education and care services, other child and family services and the broader community to improve access and participation of children with disabilities / developmental delays
  • culturally responsive and inclusive programmes to facilitate access to services.
  • education, training and workshops for:
    • families
    • local early childhood education and care services
    • other child and family services
    • the broader community

Who delivers services?

Specialist early childhood intervention services are offered by a range of personnel, including early childhood special education teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, social workers, doctors, nurses, orthoptists, audiologists and others, depending on the needs of the child and family.

How are early childhood services delivered?

Early childhood intervention workers recognise that the family is the most important influence in a child’s life. Any services provided to children can only be delivered in the context of the family and respond to the concerns and priorities established by the family. This is called family-centred practice.

The overall aim of these services is to provide parents and families with the knowledge, skills and support to meet the needs of their child and to optimise the child’s development and ability to participate in family and community life.

Early childhood intervention teams collaborate with families to establish an Individualised Family Service Plan (IFSP) as the planning document for the delivery of services. These plans may involve a number of agencies, depending on the wishes of the family.

Services focus on supporting the child in their natural environments and in their everyday experiences and activities.

Where are early childhood intervention services delivered?

Early childhood intervention services focus on supporting the child in their natural environments and in their everyday experiences and activities.

Services may be delivered in a variety of places including: the family’s home, early childhood intervention centres, preschools, long day care centres or in other community settings.