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Best practices have become the driving force behind child welfare philosophy and practice. Current best practice research has pointed to the positive effects of early intervention in the lives of young children at risk for developmental delays due to environmental factors such as poverty, abuse, and neglect.

In 2003, amendments were made to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CAPTA is the primary federal law which sanctions the work of child welfare. The amendments included provisions to enhance linkages between child protective service agencies and public health, mental health, and developmental disabilities agencies. To comply with this regulation, in September of 2008 Pennsylvania began statewide developmental and social-emotional screening using the Ages & Stages Questionnaires®. In 2010, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was amended to include two additional categories for screening children: children under three who are homeless or living in residential treatment facilities. More recently, the Family First Prevention Services Act was signed into law in 2018, which asks states and tribes to describe activities to decrease the length of time a child is in foster care and activities used to address the developmental needs of all vulnerable children under the age of 5.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth & Families issued bulletin # 3490-08-01 which established the Ages & Stages Questionnaires® as the screening tool for Pennsylvania's County Children and Youth Agencies. In 2010, this bulletin was replaced and rescinded by bulletin # 3490-10-01 which expands the populations of children receiving services from county children and youth agencies who must be referred or screened for possible early intervention (EI) services. This new policy goes beyond the CAPTA obligations and now requires children under three who are homeless or living in residential treatment facilities to be referred or screened. A new bulletin, #3490-21-01, was issued on June 22, 2021, rescinding the previous bulletin.

The bulletin establishes the guidelines for screening Pennsylvania's children which include:

  • All children under the age of 3 who are subjects of a substantiated report are screened until they turn 5 1/2.

  • A recommendation that follow-up screenings be conducted on all open cases until the children turn 5 1/2.

  • If initial or follow-up screening results indicate a qualifying score, then a referral to early intervention is required.

  • All children under the age of 3 who are placed by a County Children and Youth Agency in a residential treatment facility which specializes in serving children with developmental delays, disabilities, or other serious health conditions.

  • All children under the age of 3 who are homeless and whose family is receiving county children and youth services.

  • Additional screening procedures are also outlined for substantiated cases where the initial screening did not mandate a referral for EI services.

  • A recommendation for referral to the county's MH/ID program when a child may have a developmental disability, intellectual disability, or autism. Including children identified outside of the ASQ-3® and ASQ:SE-2® screenings.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study of this initiative and children's developmental needs. The 3-year study began in June 2009, and involved interviews with child welfare and early intervention agencies across the state, a database of children screened, and interviews with children's caregivers. Results of the study indicated that all children involved in child welfare services benefit from early developmental and social-emotional screening regardless of substantiation status. Caregivers and child welfare caseworkers enjoyed the screening process. Screenings provided caregivers with a sense of pride and accomplishment as they watched their children achieve milestones during the screening. Caseworkers were able to use the screenings as a way to engage caregivers in a different way and enhance communication and rapport. More results can be found in the research reports and research briefs in the right side bar.

For more information, please contact Rachel Winters at
Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Third Edition (ASQ-3™): A Parent-Completed, Child-Monitoring System, Third Edition, Squires & Bricker. Copyright™ 2009 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. Ages & Stages Questionnaires is a registered trademark and ASQ and the ASQ logo are trademarks of Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Social-Emotional, Second Edition (ASQ:SE-2™): A Parent-Completed, Child-Monitoring System for Social-Emotional Behaviors, Squires, Bricker, & Twombly. Copyright© 2015 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. Ages & Stages Questionnaires is a registered trademark and the ASQ:SE logo is a trademark of Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.