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09 January 2023

A guide to early connections under the early childhood approach.

Early connections are an important aspect of Australia’s new early childhood approach, designed to support young children with developmental concerns and their families.

Early connections connect children and their families with early supports and information to develop capacity and improve the child’s opportunities.

The important thing to know about early connections is that children do not need a diagnosis to be eligible and supports can be provided without accessing the NDIS.

A brief introduction to early connections.

Early connections are for children younger than nine with delays in their development or disability, and for their families and carers.

They’re intended to connect families with the right supports and services to build on their strengths and support the child to develop skills to take part in everyday activities.

For example, getting information about community and mainstream (other government) services.

Early connections and the NDIS.

Early connections are not the same as being on the NDIS. Children do not have to be eligible for the NDIS to access early connections.

Early connections are also available for a wider range of children in the community regardless of citizenship or visa status.

Early connections can include connections to:

  • Mainstream (government) and community services such as early childhood services, health services and family support services
  • Practical information that is relevant to the child’s development
  • Other families
  • Early supports
  • Apply to the NDIS.

If a child is eligible for the NDIS and the family chooses to complete an access request, assistance can be provided through early connections.

Accessing early connections through early childhood partners.

If you have concerns about your child’s development, the NDIS recommends speaking first to a health or education professional such as your GP, occupational therapist, child health care nurse or early childhood educator.

They can connect you with an early childhood partner (ECP), an organisation with experience and clinical expertise working with young children with developmental concerns or disability and their families. You can also contact an ECP yourself. No referral or diagnosis is needed.

What does an early childhood partner do?

The role of an early childhood partner is to provide your child and your family with assistance. Early intervention is the best way to ensure children get the right support in order to achieve the best possible outcomes throughout their life.

An ECP helps your child develop the skills they need to take part in daily activities and build strong foundations for their future.

ECP teams often include occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists speech therapists and other relevant allied health professionals.

To find an early childhood partner, visit the NDIS website. If there are none in your area, contact the NDIS on 1800 800 110.

What to expect from an early childhood partner.

An ECP will initially meet with you and your family and chat about the following:

  • Any concerns about your child’s development
  • Priorities and goals for the child
  • How you currently support the child and where more support may be needed
  • Information from available screening tools, assessments or reports
  • Any early childhood supports currently received and how well they meet your needs.

An ECP uses observation in familiar settings to understand how the child plays, communicates and helps take care of themselves. They may also use assessment tools to learn more about the child’s development.

This information is used to assess the child’s support needs and determine the next steps.

Getting the right support for your child.

The types of support available depends on the child’s developmental concerns and age.

Age developmental concerns Supports
If your child is younger than 9 and the information shows they have developmental concerns*
  • An ECP may offer early supports and connections to mainstream and community services (not the NDIS).
  • May include parent workshops, building capacity of mainstream services to support your child, strategies to help your child build skills, support for parents and carers and preparing for transitions, other families or mainstream and community services
  • Usually last for 3-6 months or a maximum of 12 months.
If your child is younger than 6 and there are delays in their development**


  • If they may meet the NDIS developmental delay criteria, the ECP may recommend applying for access to the NDIS and can assist with this process
  • If they don’t meet the developmental delay criteria, they may be offered early supports and connections (as above).
If your child is under 9 and has global developmental delay or a known disability/diagnosis
  • They will receive early supports to the age of 9
  • The ECP may recommend applying for access to the NDIS and assist with the access request.


* Developmental concerns: Delays in a child’s development that don’t fully meet the NDIS definition of developmental delay. They may impact everyday activities the child can do compared with other children the same age.

** Developmental delay: The NDIS may consider that a child has a developmental delay when they are younger than 6 and have a delay that results in a substantial reduction in functional capacity. They also require support for more than 12 months from a team of professionals who work collaboratively.

In some instances, for example, if your child is 6 years or older and you would benefit from substantial support to connect with community and mainstream services to support your child’s development, your early childhood partner may work with you to develop a community connections plan. This will help you and your child participate in mainstream or community services in your local area. (See NDIS Early Connections Operational Guide.)

What happens next?

After a child moves on from early connections, a parent or carer can reconnect with an early childhood partner at any time in the future as long as the child is younger than 9.

Families with children with developmental delay who are are receiving early supports may receive assistance to complete an NDIS access request if the child has a known diagnosis and is likely to meet the NDIS eligibility criteria.

Families with children aged 9 and above can contact a local area coordinator who can assist with an NDIS Access Request or accessing other relevant supports.

Leap in! can help.

If you’re a parent of a child with a disability trying to navigate the NDIS, we are here to help. As Australia’s leading plan manager, we can help you get the most from your child’s NDIS Plan.

Our members tell us they like that they can…

  • Stay in control and track their budgets in real time on our family-sharing NDIS planning app
  • Get help connecting with the local supports they need, and
  • Put the family time saved on book-keeping tasks towards their child’s supports and outcomes.

If you’d like more information simply call us on 1300 05 78 78, chat online via our website or email



NDIS webinar Early connections under the early childhood approach.

NDIS Operational Guideline, early childhood approach

What does the early childhood approach look like?

How does the NDIS work with young children and their families?


Further reading

Resources for parents of children with disabilities.

Questions we’re asked the most about the NDIS and children.

The benefits of play therapy in early intervention.


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