Early Steps is a federally and state funded program for children 0-3 years old.

Every baby develops at their own pace. But sometimes developmental delays happen; it could be caused by a condition or a developmental concern. When a baby has a developmental delay, it’s important to get help early. However, it’s difficult to know where to turn for help, and help can be expensive. Early Steps is an early intervention program that is federally and state funded, that offers free help to caregivers of children from birth to 36 months of age.

Dr. Emily Shaffer-Hudkins, Bay Area Early Steps director, stated of the program, “Early Steps is meant to empower caregivers and parents. It is an educational model and is meant to teach families in the home or classroom how to build on and help your baby to continue developing and hit his or her milestones.”

There are 15 Early Steps programs in Florida. However, the University of South Florida’s Bay Area Early Steps manages both Hillsborough and Polk counties. Early Steps has a variety of services and interventions that can help with a baby’s needs, such as: in-home therapies (speech, occupational or physical therapy), assistive technology and hearing and vision services.

To apply for Early Steps, a referral needs to be put in through the Florida Early Steps website. Next, an Early Steps affiliate will call the parent/caregiver to conduct an intake phone call, decide on a family-based support plan as well as discuss an in-person or telehealth evaluation of the baby. Finally, a full developmental evaluation is conducted with a multidisciplinary team, the family and the child. If it is determined during the evaluation that there is a developmental delay and the baby needs some help from Early Steps, the coordinator will find and organize coverage of appropriate help for that child. Income is not a factor for eligibility.

Whitney Howard, a physical therapist (MPT) at an Early Steps provider called Total Therapy in Riverview, shared her experience: “Early Steps is instrumental in helping to connect families with the support they need to address any developmental concerns. The program empowers parents with the knowledge and tools of how to work with their children during daily routines to accomplish their goals. The team approach among the providers and parents really maximizes outcomes.”

For more information on the Bay Area Early Steps program, go to its website at https://floridaearlysteps.com/.

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Ashley Abene
Ashley Abene has written for the Osprey Observer since 2023. She has a master’s degree in writing and literature and a bachelor’s degree in professional writing from the University of South Florida. She has taught college-level writing and literature at USF and Southeastern University for over nine years. She’s a blogger at Peace Filled Family and enjoys writing children’s books. She’s also a mom to three kids, and her husband has been serving in the military for over 20 years.