Boosting Developmental Screening Efforts in Pennsylvania

Baby Check-Up

By Joan Benso, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children 

A child’s first years of life are marked by tremendous physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth. Detecting possible delays in development during these early years is a critical part of ensuring every child gets to the best possible start and is well prepared to learn and grow up healthy.

About 1 in 10 Pennsylvania children may experience a delay in one or more aspects of development, but Pennsylvania lacks a comprehensive way of monitoring how many children receive developmental screenings that could help detect these delays. A developmental screening is a series of brief questions that can help identify the presence of delays. These questions can be asked during a medical visit or in an early learning setting, such as a child care center.

Despite the benefits of such screenings, the limited data available indicates fewer than half of Pennsylvania children from birth to age 3 enrolled in the commonwealth’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid in 2014 were receiving recommended screens.

To help address this, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) has been working to elevate awareness about developmental screenings. We recently issued a new report – Developmental Screening: An Early Start to Good Health – that looks at ways Pennsylvania can better promote the use of developmental screenings, educate families about their importance and ensure children with possible delays in development receive appropriate follow-up assessments, care and interventions. Our recommendations include:

  • Calling on the state to mandate developmental screenings during a child’s first three years of life at intervals recommended under the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Bright Futures standards (nine months, 18 months and 24-30 months) for children enrolled in CHIP and Medicaid.
  • When a possible developmental delay is identified during a screening, requiring that steps be taken by CHIP and Medicaid managed care organizations to ensure any appropriate follow-up assessments and/or care coordination takes place.
  • Better communication and information sharing between parents and early learning providers to help make families aware of the availability of developmental screenings and the age intervals at which such screenings should be conducted, and to help providers give guidance when referrals are needed.
  • A state-led public awareness campaign to increase understanding about the importance of developmental screenings and to share resources and information with families on access to screenings, referrals, interventions and follow-up options.
  • Urging the state to engage in strategic partnerships with organizations and entities that share the goal of increasing access to developmental screenings, assessment and care coordination in both health care and early learning settings to ensure that their goals and work is better aligned.

Increasing the use of developmental screenings not only helps ensure healthy outcomes for our children, it also can bring a strong return on investment. One study found well-designed early childhood interventions can generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for each dollar spent on the program.