It is well-researched that early childhood education for toddlers can change the course of their educational careers.
One of the purposes of the state's Early Intervention program is to minimize the need for special education and related services as infants, toddlers and eligible young children become school-age.
So changing eligibility standards for children showing indications of speech impairment to enter the state's Early Intervention programs worries some Early Intervention providers.
In the fall, the state Department of Public Welfare accepted public comments on the possible changes.
"We are waiting for a final announcement [from the state] in a month or so," Southern Alleghenies Service Management Group program director Kelly Popich said.
The department is specifying Early Intervention eligibility across the state.
"The way it is now, in one county children qualify, and in another they would not," state Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Donna Morgan said.
"The department is clarifying what rules can be used for a child to qualify. We are hearing a lot of concerns," she said. "Agencies say this will mean a lot of children will not be eligible for Early Intervention."
But she said a formal analysis of the concern cannot be conducted until the department has consistency across the state, which can be done "only once the final announcement has been honed, taking into consideration all that we've heard from providers," she said.
Popich agreed eligibility needs to be consistent across the state, but she fears the changes will exclude children showing signs of speech impairment from qualifying, translating to more children needing speech therapy in schools.
"Some items proposed to change are concerning us and agencies across the state because we could be leaving children out who definitely need the services," Popich said.
One quarter of the 250 children receiving services from the Southern Alleghenies Early Toddler Intervention program might not qualify under a revised program, she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.