Child Find: Special Education Law

What is Child Find?

Child find is a provision within Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that ensures the local public school district is identifying students in need of special education services in order to provide them with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Ultimately, it is the public school’s duty to educate every child, from early childhood through high school, within the district; furthermore, they are obligated to meet each child where they are at by providing special education and related services regardless of the severity of their disability. A district may do this by providing outreach, an early intervention program, or just raising public awareness of their services.

Child Find Procedures

Although Child Find is a provision of federal law, each state handles the child find process differently. Missouri for instance, where I am a Director of Special Education, requires districts to provide notice of their child find requirements in a local newspaper and local radio stations. In Ohio, the Department of Education requires state-approved written procedures from each district. As you begin looking into this further, always consult your specific state statutes.

Often school districts provide their written procedures on their websites, like the Special School District of St. Louis or Chicago Public Schools. This is not a federal requirement, but it is a good practice since it leads to a transparent process that leaves little question to those making a referral for an initial evaluation.

School districts also have an obligation to their own students, meaning that districts must consider referrals for an initial evaluation that are generated from either school staff or parents. Regardless of what supports are put into place in a school, once a child fails to perform commensurate to their peers in the academic environment, an evaluation is warranted. Furthermore, response to intervention (RTI) processes cannot delay an evaluation when a student fails to make progress in the general education curriculum. This particular rule is established by 2016 case law from a South Dakota US District Court.

Who Does Child Find Law Protect?

Child Find is designed to protect qualified children in the community, including those that are most vulnerable. Some of the children with eligibility for Child Find are:

  • Migrant children
  • Homeless children
  • Young children with a developmental delay
  • Private school students within the public school district’s boundaries
  • Homeschooled students

The school districts have an obligation to protect migrant and homeless children, which is required by The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Regarding migrant children, this refers to those that are unhoused, as well as those that are housed but potentially wards of the state. These students get certain protections under the child find mandate so that they can have stability in school, even though other areas of their life may be less stable. These school services include providing special education and related services.

School districts must also provide early intervention services, per Part C of IDEA, to students who are three years of age and older, but not yet kindergarten aged. These students are often considered to be young children with a developmental delay. These children may be identified through first step services or parent referrals.

Private schools that reside within the public school district’s boundaries also may make referrals of their students for special education services. These students are not required to live within the boundaries, but since they are educated in them it becomes the public school’s obligation to identify students who are eligible for and would benefit from special education programs.

Similarly to private school students, homeschooled students that could benefit from special education programs should be identified and evaluated so that they can access services provided by the local education agency (LEA).

Services and Proportionate Share

Proportionate share is a rule within IDEA that states a school district must allocate a portion of its IDEA funding to provide services to students that are parentally placed in public schools (this includes homeschooled students as well).

In my last school district, which served approximately 12,000 students, there was a little less than $17,000 to provide services to students in the local parochial school and homeschools within the district. These funds paid for transportation and services, which quickly ran out for those families that chose not to enroll in the public school. After that money was expended, those students ceased to receive services on their individual service plan (ISP), which is a document similar to an individualized education program (IEP) that outlines a service plan for students in private schools.

Common Types of Child Find Encounters

There are many instances where a situation will trigger the child find rules, but some of the more common ways are:

  • Agency Referral
  • Parent Referral
  • Medical Reports
  • Transfer Student Reevaluation

Agency or Parent Referral

Both the school district and parents may make a referral for a child. These referrals may lead to an initial evaluation, the discovery of a disability, and an individual education program (IEP). For more information on referrals please see my blog on the topic (LINK).

Medical Reports

If a medical provider completed a report showing that a student has a medical condition, the student’s parents can submit the report to the school district for review.

Medical findings can lead to an initial evaluation to determine if the student has a qualified disability according to the standards set by IDEA.

Transfer Student Reevaluation

If a student transfers into a new school district from another district that is outside of the state or under a different local education agency (LEA) and they were identified as having a disability in their prior district, they must have a review of their documentation and may require reevaluation.

What are the Effects of Child Find Law?

Child Find is intended to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities so that they have the opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This allows them to advance with their peers in their education while remaining in the least restrictive environment, even if they are in a non-traditional school setting, such as if they attend private schools or homeschool. Child Find also helps identify children who are suspected to have a disability, including those that are infants and toddlers.

Child Find Law provides the first step in the process of aiding these students by determining which children may need special education currently or in the future if they are a young child suspected to have a developmental delay.

Public schools have the responsibility under federal law to find these students so that they can advance from grade to grade with other students who are in a traditional education setting. Child Find sets these students up to begin the evaluation process, which can help the schools develop and implement an IEP or 504 Plan if appropriate.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide special education services and/or accommodations to all students, as much as possible, to aid them in their educational development.

This law can change the course of their life beyond primary education by setting them up to attend secondary education or gain a career in their adult life.

Keep up With Your District Obligations With SpedTrack

Web applications like SpedTrack can keep you in compliance with your child find obligations, by allowing you to manage student profiles, their evaluations, and even transfer special education records between districts that also use SpedTrack.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about how we can help you.

Jake Boswell

Dr. Boswell started his career in special education in 2008. He has taught in a residential treatment center and public schools around the Kansas City Area. He has held positions as a special education teacher, process coordinator, and currently serves as the Director of Special Education for the KC International Academy. He enjoys outdoor activities, spending time with his wife and two sons.