Developmental Milestones Matter: Helping Caregivers and Providers Track Children’s Early Development
By the Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. Program
Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye-bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move. Tracking children’s milestones provides important information about their early development and can signal when a child may need extra support. Because early identification of possible developmental delays and receiving early support when needed can help children’s development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages all caregivers to track children’s milestones. CDC provides free, high-quality, family-friendly milestone checklists in a variety of formats to help caregivers regularly track milestones among children ages two months through five years.
Tracking milestones supports early child development
Tracking milestones can help caregivers learn what to expect at different ages of development and establish more realistic expectations around children’s abilities, skills, and behaviors. In fact, caregiver knowledge of early child development is a protective factor against child abuse and neglect (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2018). Tracking milestones also offers opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate children’s progress, to better support the development of skills and behaviors, and to seek support early when children miss milestones or there are other possible concerns. Just about anyone who spends time with a child—parents, grandparents, foster families, social workers, early educators, home visitors, and many other caregivers—can support a young child’s early development by tracking milestones. It’s easy with CDC’s free milestone checklists.
Be on the lookout for missed milestones and share your concerns
While a missed milestone may not be cause for alarm, it’s always worth talking about with the child’s health care provider or another early childhood professional. Sharing a completed milestone checklist can be helpful in communicating the concern. Missing milestones or any other concern should prompt a caregiver to ask about developmental screening. Talking about a child’s development, sharing a completed milestone checklist, and communicating any concerns is helpful to children’s health care providers, too! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends both developmental surveillance, which includes tracking children’s milestones, and periodic developmental screening at specified ages and whenever there are concerns. Developmental screening can better assess risk for a possible developmental delay or disability and help get children the services or support they may need. The earlier developmental concerns are identified, the sooner children can connect with services and support, like early intervention, to help their development. Developmental surveillance during the physical exam that occurs prior to child placement into foster care would be an optimal time to ensure that a child’s development is on track. Developmental delays and disabilities are common. In the United States, an estimated 1 in 4 children ages 0-5 years is considered to be at moderate or high risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delay (Coker et al., 2012) and 1 in 6 children ages 3-17 has a developmental disability (Zablotsky et al., 2019). Unfortunately, it is estimated that less than one-fifth of those children receive early intervention services before age 3 (Vitrikas et al., 2017), and many children with delays and disabilities are not identified before kindergarten, often missing out on early services and supports. Children being served by the child welfare system may be at greater risk for missing out. As a caregiver and trusted provider, you play a critical role in helping to make sure all children with developmental delays are identified early and are connected to early intervention services and other supports.
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