Child Outreach Screening

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services.

In Rhode Island, the Child Outreach Screening Program serves as the vehicle for screening children ages 3- 5, prior to kindergarten entry.  Screening serves as a first step in identifying children who may have a disability or developmental delay and require intervention.

RIDE’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan sets a goal to increase early childhood developmental screening rates for children ages 3-5 by 15%.  To help reach the target, RIDE is committed to:

  • Supporting the development of family-friendly information about early childhood developmental screenings
  • Partnering with health care providers and early childhood programs to promote high-quality early childhood screening
  • Expanding access to screening services for children ages 3-5

Each school district is required to establish a screening program that meets the requirements as outlined in the “RI Guidelines for Implementing Child Outreach Screening.” 


  • A developmental screening is a brief assessment in five areas of development: general development, social-emotional development, speech and language, vision and, hearing. It is designed to determine whether a child may experience a challenge that will interfere with the acquisition of knowledge or skill. The results of the screening can help families understand how their child is progressing and how they can continue to support his/her development.
  • For children ages birth to three, developmental screenings are completed through multiple means, including the child’s doctor. For children age’s three through five, developmental screenings are conducted by the local school district’s Child Outreach program.
  • A tremendous amount of brain development occurs during early childhood, which establishes the foundation for future learning and development. During this period, development is relatively flexible and is strongly shaped by early experiences. Thus, research suggests it is more productive and effective to intervene at a young age when the developing brain is most capable of change. With early and regular screening, families can feel confident that their children are getting the support they need as soon as possible. Developmental screening is one of the best things families can do to promote their child’s success in kindergarten and beyond.

  • Families are integral parts of the screening. Child Outreach programs communicate with parents throughout the process, even if they are not present during the screening itself. Families provide valuable information relative to their child’s functioning. Child Outreach offers information relative to the child’s screening results, as well as information about child development, high-quality early childhood education, and referrals to agencies and programs within the community. The effectiveness of this exchange of information is as important as the screening itself as for many families Child Outreach screening is the family’s introduction to the public school system.

  • Screening is not an assessment of a child’s English language ability, but rather a snapshot of the child’s development. Screening results should accurately reflect the child’s skills and capabilities rather than the child’s linguistic difference. Thus, if a child speaks or understands a language other than English, Child Outreach makes every effort to screen the child and communicate with the family in their dominant language. Parents are encouraged to notify Child Outreach prior to the screening so that a bilingual screener or interpreter can be made available.

  • Although the large majority of children will achieve results within age-appropriate ranges, approximately one-third of children screened will require additional consideration in one or more areas. Rescreening involves taking a second look at a child to clarify questions raised during the initial screening process. Referral to special education occurs when a child does not pass the speech/language, general development, or social–emotional screen and after communication with the family. Children that do not pass the vision or hearing screens are referred to their physicians for follow-up.

  • Children who present with obvious or significant delays or disabilities need not be screened at all and should instead, with parental consent, be referred directly to special education. Although screenings are frequently an appropriate initial step in identifying children who may need special education, they are not required as a prerequisite for all referrals. Direct referrals for a Special Education evaluation may be made at any time by a parent or the LEA. In addition, passing the Child Outreach screening does not preclude a child from being referred to special education.

  • Child Outreach provides annual screenings in most early care and education centers. If a child is in school, the first step may be to check with the child’s teacher for upcoming screening dates. Parents can always contact their local Child Outreach provider directly to schedule a more timely individual screening for their child.

  • District Level Child Outreach Contacts

Families can find the appropriate contact information based on the community in which they reside.

Rhode Island reports the percentage of the children screened through Child Outreach on an annual basis.

For more information on Early Childhood Special Education, contact your district level Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) Coordinator or select from the following sections: