NEW JERSEY – As state-mandated COVID-19 lockdowns and closures continue to negatively impact child development long after the public health emergency, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz is calling on legislative leadership to consider her bill extending early intervention services to age 6 from 3-years-old.
“Babies born during the pandemic missed out on important social and emotional learning and interactions that would have supported proper language development,” Munoz (R-Union) said. “The consequences of school closures and social distancing requirements have most negatively impacted our youngest learners who are now struggling to catch up developmentally. We have an obligation to the children and families of New Jersey to provide the intervention services and in-person therapies they need without disruption.”
Munoz sponsors a bill (A2942) with fellow Union County lawmaker, Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis, allowing eligible children in the New Jersey Early Intervention System to receive services through age 5 or until they start kindergarten. Currently, toddlers who need continued support in their development transition from providers in the state program to preschool special education services once they reach 3-years-old.
“When schools were shut down and medical providers moved their therapy sessions online, our children with disabilities and delays suffered greatly, especially those without the means to pay for private tutors and specialists,” Munoz said. “Children should be able to stay with a state-contracted therapist if they have been successfully progressing instead of having to wait for preschool services to start. Families shouldn’t have to shell out large sums of money to address delays that are not their fault. This bill will allow for consistent, timely and reliable services.”
The state’s early intervention program contracts with providers to assist approximately 30,000 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers each year. Monthly referrals for services increased 20% as more babies born during the pandemic hit 18 months old and most appointments were via telehealth.
According to one study, babies born during the pandemic scored statistically lower on the developmental areas of fine and gross motor skills, and personal-social skills. Researchers from Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University found that pandemic-born children had reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance and much lower average IQ scores.
“I sounded the alarm about the administration’s failure to fund learning loss during budget hearings and unfortunately it fell on deaf ears,” Munoz said. “My bill puts New Jersey’s children first. They should be a top priority.”
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Human Services Committee.