Advocating for early intervention in tight times

Alison Whyte is a policy specialist at The Arc of DC, a partner in our High 5 for D.C.'s Kids Campaign

In tight times like these, advocacy groups face a peculiar dilemma. The need for critical social services has increased dramatically, even as the pie for funding them has shrunk. Normally, our default position would be to call for more public funding for our cause. But with our city facing a $175 million budget deficit, many of us really wouldn’t stand a chance. Advocates are scrambling to craft the right message just to prevent further cuts.

The Arc of DC advocates for early intervention services for children with disabilities ranging from minor developmental delays to congenital disabilities diagnosed at birth. In one way, we’re fortunate, because the early intervention program in the District is fully funded by a federal grant. “Fully” in this case is relative – what the federal government sends us is far from enough to actually reach all infants and toddlers with disabilities who need early intervention in the District.  

That leaves us with one very important goal for the time being. That is, to increase public awareness about the critical need for early diagnosis and care for children with disabilities. We can and must continue to educate our legislators and decision makers.  Their focus right now is on cutting costs, and the research is definitive that early intervention saves money in the long run. In fact, for every dollar spent on early intervention services, localities can save anywhere between $3.78 and $17.07 in future costs related to special education and health. Not only is investing in early intervention the right thing to do, but it is also fiscally responsible.

When we do get ourselves out of this budget hole, early intervention should be one of the first places we look to invest in the future of DC.

In the meantime, The Arc of DC is also working to help individuals be proactive. We convene the Early Intervention Working Group, which brings people together to talk about strategies for improving services for infants and toddlers in DC. If you are interested in getting involved, contact Alison Whyte at or 202-636-2981. Additionally, we want to connect people with resources that will help them learn about early childhood development. Here are a couple of tools that can help identify any young children in our own lives who may be struggling with disabilities and can benefit from early intervention.

Ages and Stages Questionnaire – This tool screens children for developmental delays. 

Birth to 3 years

3-5 years

Zero to Three – Handouts describing developmental milestones from birth to age three.

Your Baby’s Development