Quality Developmental Screening

Children with developmental and social-emotional delays often show signs of delay in their behavior and functioning—in areas such as communication, motor skills, and social and emotional competence—even before entering school. These signs may be overlooked by parents who are either unaware of developmentally appropriate milestones or who believe their children will outgrow their delays prior to school entry. Sometimes the signs of delay are so subtle that even pediatricians miss them when relying solely on clinical judgment rather than incorporating a screening tool.

Developmental screenings are systematic reviews of age-appropriate developmental milestones. Children with undiagnosed delays in reaching these milestones can miss an important window of opportunity in which early intervention (EI) services could have supported their healthy development and helped them reach their potential. As a result, it is critical that routine screenings of infants and young children (up to five years of age) are used to identify concerns related to a child’s development and determine when further evaluation by an EI provider is needed.

Characteristics of a Quality Screening
A screening program is effective when it involves an ongoing process of monitoring, training, feedback, and quality improvement as needed. An effective screening has the following characteristics:
  • Staff use the correct screening tool and adhere to screening instructions.

  • The screening tool accurately identifies children at risk for delays.

  • The process lead parents and professionals to take concrete "next steps" when appropriate, such as making a referral, following up with further evaluation, and pursuing educational/therapeutic support by an EI provider.