- Ensure that young children receive developmental screening early and often. Young children in foster care are more likely than not to have developmental delays in at least one area, such as language, motor skills, or growth. Standardized screening, whether with a screening tool like the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) or by a pediatrician, is necessary for not only early identification of these issues but also early intervention to help kids thrive.
- Understand attachment. Attachment is everything for young children. Our earliest learning happens in the context of a relationship with a loving, attuned caregiver. If children are able to form a healthy early attachment to someone (whether a parent or substitute caregiver), they are more resilient and are more equipped to form other attachments later. Attachment should be a consideration at every point in representing young children, including transitions, visitation, and permanency.
- Advocate for early intervention services. Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), provides two systems for early intervention services for young children: Part C for birth to three-year-olds and Part B for preschool-age students (three-to-five-year-olds). This legislation includes strict timelines to receive these services and specific provisions for students transitioning to preschool and to kindergarten, which attorneys can help enforce for their young clients.
- Know that preschool is more than just playtime. For children who have experienced trauma or have developmental delays, preschool is an especially crucial intervention. Preschool provides a chance for young children to learn vital social-emotional skills, build supportive relationships with teachers, and gain exposure to pre-academic concepts necessary for kindergarten. Attorneys should advocate for any clients over three years old to be enrolled in a high-quality early education program, like Head Start, which foster youth are automatically eligible for.
- Don’t forget about physical health. Physical health is never more important than in early childhood, when children’s bodies and brains are experiencing rapid growth. Nutrition, sleep, and exercise are three of the most critical factors in early learning and have profound impacts on young children’s mental health and overall well-being. When advocating for young children with extreme challenges, sometimes there is a need to go back to basics and ensure that these fundamental needs are met first.
For more information see:
- Advocating for Very Young Children in Dependency Proceedings: The Hallmarks of Effective, Ethical Representation (A publication of the ABA Center on Children and the Law)
- Visitation with Infants and Toddlers in Foster Care: What Judges and Attorneys Need to Know (A publication of the ABA Center on Children and the Law)