Purpose of review: This article reviews the importance of appropriate developmental surveillance in early childhood, what is known about its effectiveness in current pediatric practice, and ways in which its delivery can be improved to optimize child outcomes.
Recent findings: Many infants and young children with developmental delays or risk factors for poor developmental outcomes are not identified by pediatric practitioners in a timely manner. When they are identified, they are often not referred to appropriate early intervention services or early childhood development programs. They are therefore denied the opportunity to benefit from programs documented to have long-lasting benefits for children. Structuring developmental screening around the use of validated parent questionnaires improves the rates at which children with developmental needs are appropriately identified. At the same time, lowering thresholds for referral improves the rates at which children with identified needs receive appropriate services.
Summary: Pediatric practitioners are uniquely positioned to improve children's developmental outcomes through early identification and referral of children with developmental delays or risk factors for poor developmental outcomes. Unfortunately, inappropriate screening practices, high thresholds for referral, misplaced concerns about causing parental anxiety, and unfamiliarity with local resources all diminish the effectiveness with which many practitioners conduct developmental surveillance. Recent studies show that small changes in screening and referral practices have the potential to greatly improve the effectiveness of developmental surveillance. This, in turn, has the potential to improve lifelong outcomes for children.