Early Start

The Early Start Program is California’s early intervention system that offers services to eligible infants and toddlers who have or are at risk for developmental disabilities or delays. Early intervention supports families and caregivers to increase their child’s participation in daily activities and routines that are important to the family.

The Story of Max

This short animated video, produced by California Early Start/DDS, shows a family going through the process of applying for and receiving Early Start services. It explains what Early Start services are, and how to apply for them.

Video: The Story of Max (Spanish)

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris
A Message from California's Surgeon General, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, about Free Early Start Services

Early Intervention is key to helping your baby or toddler who may have developmental delays and/or disabilities. Learn more about free services & supports in this Public Service Announcement about Early Start.

Frequently Asked Questions

Early Intervention is services and supports available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families.

Early Intervention services may include:
Assistive Technology
Family Training, Counseling, and Home Visits
Health Services
Medical Services for Diagnostic/Evaluation Purposes Only
Nursing Services
Nutrition Services
Occupational Therapy
Service Coordination (Case Management)
Physical Therapy
Sign Language and Cued Language Services
Social Work Services
Special Instruction
Vision Services
Speech and Language Services

The evaluation, assessment, and service coordination are all done at no cost. Your service coordinator will provide more information on how early start services are paid.

Anyone. Anyone can make a referral, including the parents, medical providers, neighbors, friends, family members, foster parents, and daycare providers.

What happens after a referral?

Within 45 days the regional center or local education area will:

Assign a service coordinator to assist the family through evaluation and assessment procedures. Parental consent for evaluation is obtained.
Schedule and complete evaluations and assessments of the child’s development.
If an infant or toddler is eligible for early intervention services, an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) will be developed that addresses the strengths and needs of the infant or toddler, parental concerns, and early intervention services.
Identify early intervention services that are provided in the family home or other settings.
If you have a young child who needs specialized care or has a disability, or if you have a concern about your child’s development, there is help and support in your community!

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.

- Fred Rogers

Contact Us

Find out more about First 5 Mendocino and how we can help you.
Local Resources
  • Doctor’s Visits
    As kids get older they need fewer checkups, but it is still important to schedule well-child appointments regularly
  • Family Resource Center Network:
    The Family Resource Center Network of Mendocino County is a group of 10 community-based family resource centers working together to help individuals and families access services.
  • Home Visiting
    Free home visiting services to help you navigate the challenges of being a parent.
  • Mendocino County Office of Education (MCOE) – Early Start
    MCOE provides early intervention (EI) services to children with significant developmental delay and/or hearing, orthopedic, or vision impairment.
  • Raise & Shine Family Resource CenterRaise & Shine is an Early Start Family Resource Center in Ukiah that provides resources, support, training, and classes to families of children with and without disabilities.
  • Redwood Coast Regional Center
    The Redwood Coast Regional Center provides a wide array of services to individuals who have a developmental disability, or who are at risk for disabilities, and their families.
General Resources
  • California Early Start
    An early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities, along with their families.
  • CAPTAIN – California Autism Professional Training and Information Network
    Support the understanding and use of Evidence-Based Practices for individuals affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • CDC’s Milestone Tracker App
    Track your child’s milestones from age 2 months to 5 years with CDC’s easy-to-use illustrated checklists.
  • Department of Developmental Services – Autism
    Resource and information about autism symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • Northern California Children’s Therapy Center
    Provide information and support to native families about early childhood education and intervention.
  • Zero to Three
    Information on early childhood.