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Chance Elevator Encounters and Tenacious Champions: Collaborative Referrals Between Child Welfare and Early Intervention

Haidee K. Bernstein, SRI International, Arlington, Virginia; Lenita Ashley Hartman, Colorado Department of Human Services, Denver, Colorado; Kathleen Hebbeler, SRI International, Davis, California; Jennifer L. Kaufman, Rhode Island Office of Health and Human Services, Cranston, Rhode Island; Darlene Magaw, Community Care Alliance, Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Evelyn F. Shaw, University of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, North Carolina; Lorendia K. Schmidt, Colorado Department of Human Services, Denver, Colorado; and Donna Spiker, SRI International, Menlo Park, California;

This article spotlights Colorado and Rhode Island’s collaboration efforts on the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act (PL 108-36, 2003), which reauthorized the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA, 2018) and Part C of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2018). These two key pieces of federal legislation require collaboration between state early intervention systems for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families and welfare programs that focus on prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect to be effective. From these state examples, we highlight both barriers to and facilitators of successful collaboration across the two programs.

Samantha, 24 months old, had very limited language skills. She had been removed from her home and was living with her aunt following a substantiated case of physical abuse. Her case worker was concerned about her language and overall development and referred her to the early intervention (EI) program. However, the EI program had only limited procedures in place for following up on referrals from the local child welfare program. The referral was included in a printout that was sent electronically once a month to the local EI program. The EI service coordinator made several attempts to reach Samantha’s aunt, but was unsuccessful. Samantha’s case closed, and she received no evaluation or services from the EI program. (Box 1 contains selected data about child maltreatment rates in the United States.)

Sharing information and data across EI and child welfare programs can be successful when an effective process exists for collaboration across the two programs (Mapes & Mitcheltree, 2019). This article describes how Colorado and Rhode Island, recognizing the need to improve connections for children such as Samantha, successfully implemented systems change at the state and local levels to increase the number of referrals to EI for families involved in child welfare. Their stories illustrate how their journeys improved the rate of viable referrals between EI and child welfare over the past several years.

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