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Screening: The First Step in Getting to Know a Child

Health screening is a key part of children’s overall health care. It can help identify concerns early. Explore basic information about screening, as well as resources about screening infants and toddlers. Also, learn about culturally and linguistically responsive screening, lead screening, sensory screening, and social, emotional, and behavioral screening. You’ll also find helpful, practical tools.

Download a printable list of these resource links.

The Basics

Screening is the first step in getting to know a child at the beginning of each enrollment year. This "baseline data" helps staff plan and individualize services. It also helps them identify "red flags" for further examination or evaluation.

When concerns go unidentified, they can lead to bigger problems. Resources from Learn the Signs. Act Early. help staff and families become familiar with developmental milestones. Knowing what to expect helps adults support children's progress.

When staff and families know the basics of screening, they have a good foundation to implement it well. The recorded webinars, Health Screening and Determining Child Health Status, also help staff understand the "what, why, when, who, and how" of screening. To learn tips to support staff and engage families, read Screening in Head Start.

Focusing on the potential benefits of screening helps everyone understand its importance. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! focuses on four specific goals. Screening helps staff and families:

  • Celebrate milestones
  • Promote universal screening
  • Identify possible delays and concerns early
  • Enhance developmental supports

Find a compendium that provides descriptions of screening measures for young children. Also, share the guides with partners in screening.

Screening is part of a larger process professionals use to learn about children's health and development. In partnership with families, developmental monitoring (or surveillance), screening, and assessment keep children on track developmentally. For definitions of each, read Developmental Monitoring and Screening that offers descriptions of each and their importance. The webinar, Don't Just Wait and See, and presentation slides from Developmental Screening in Early Childhood Settings provide an overview of these processes.

Everyone has a part to play in screening. Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! An Early Care and Education Provider's Guide to Developmental Monitoring and Screening gives directors, managers, and staff an overview of and helps them think through the details. Screening, Assessment, Evaluation & Observation helps staff identify concerns and promote child development. Finally, staff can use Tips for Talking with Parents to make sure parents are engaged in the process.

Another rich resource, How Screening and Assessment Practices Support Quality Disability Services in Head Start [PDF, 1KB page 20 - 24], offers a clear explanation of the teacher or caregiver's role. It also offers the next steps after screening which may involve special educators. To learn about their role, review resources listed on Early Identification: Screening, Evaluation, and Assessment. This webpage also describes federal requirements for diagnostic evaluation and offers state guidance.

In Head Start programs, managers build relationships with partners and define each professional's responsibilities. To learn more, read the Head Start Health Manager Orientation Guide, Chapter 3: Health Topic Self-Reflection Checklists and Chapter 4: Health Topics: Delving Deeper.

The medical home also has a critical role in screening. Screening and Diagnosis for Healthcare Providers describes how the primary health care provider can offer support. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers recommendations for developmental monitoring (or surveillance) and screening during preventive health care visits. Children who stay current on a schedule of well-child care have access to regular screening to identify concerns.

Together, professionals collaborate to observe child health and development over time. The information helps everyone identify and address concerns.

Infants and Toddlers

Children develop rapidly during the first three years of life, so keeping a watchful eye on health and development is critical. Watch Developmental Screening, Assessments, and Evaluations for Infants and Toddlers for a thorough overview of the screening process for infants and toddlers. The webinar also describes the relationship between screening and assessment. Mentioned in the webinar, "What Is Screening?" offers an easy-to-read description of screening infants and toddlers.

Specific questions arise when planning screening activities for infants and toddlers. Child care health consultants help infant/toddler programs create effective screening processes. The Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment training module for consultants new to screening covers the entire process of screening, evaluation, and assessment.

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Screening

Most early childhood programs serve diverse families. Therefore, the best screening tools gather information in ways that respond to culture and language. To better understand how this works, several resources offer guidance and tips:

Lead Screening

Lead is poison. Exposure to lead interferes with children's growth. Screening children on an ongoing basis can identify children at risk. Most states require lead screening or lead assessment during well-child visits.

For Early Care and Education Providers:

For Families:

Sensory Screening

A child's hearing and vision affects their development. To identify concerns early, sensory screening is recommended for all children. Professionals use several approaches. These resources describe sensory screening and offer strategies for use in programs.

Hearing Screening:

Vision Screening:

Social and Emotional, and Behavioral Screening

Young children are learning to get along with others and manage their own emotions. When a child enters a program, staff get to know what social and emotional skills children are working on. They use social and emotional or behavioral screening tools to gather that information. The following resources offer information and tips to enhance social emotional screening.

Practical Tools for Early Care and Education Providers

There are several best practice tools to use for screening. Staff can access these resources to select the best tools for their programs. Resources are organized by type of screening. In addition, you will find tools for managing all screening information or data.

Health Screening:

Developmental Screening:

Managing Screening Data:

Topic:Physical Health

Keywords:Health and wellnessChild screening and assessment

Resource Type: Publication

National Centers: Early Childhood Health and Wellness

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