Children with Special Health Care Needs

Nearly one in five children has a physical, cognitive, developmental, sensory, emotional, behavioral or long-standing medical condition that requires special care. This page provides resources to help health care providers, schools and families work together to make Iowa ready to care for all kids. 


Communicating with EMS 

Families can help ensure optimum care for a child with special health care needs by "preplanning" with local EMS providers for a potential emergency. This tipsheet outlines strategies for making a connection with emergency care providers in the community, educating them about the child's condition(s) and needs, and helping the child feel comfortable with EMS providers and equipment if an ambulance is needed. 

Tips for Parents: How to Preplan with EMS for an Emergency 


Communication Cards for EMS

Iowa EMSC has developed a ring of laminated, low-tech picture cards designed to facilitate communication between prehospital providers and pediatric patients with special health care needs who have difficulty speaking. Cards will be provided to Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinators free of charge (What is a Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator? See the Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator Resources page for more on how to join this fast-growing group of EMS providers dedicated to supporting prehospital care for children). A free template is also available for use with permission, for those wishing to print their own cards, or provide them for local EMS services. To view the cards or for more information, contact EMSC Coordinator Vicki Petersen vicki.petersen@idph.iowa.gov.


EMS: How to Hold a (Post-Pandemic) Open House for Families with Special Health Care Needs

EMS agencies can encourage the relationship between health care providers and families by holding an open house for families directed specifically at children with special health care needs. These events are modified from traditional "touch a truck" experiences to retain all the fun while accommodating special equipment like walkers and wheelchairs, and being sensitive to those with aversion to noise, sirens, lights and large crowds. Find out how to hold an open house here: 

Tips for EMS: How to Host a Families with Special Health Care Needs Open House


Disaster Planning for Families

American Academy of Pediatrics Family Disaster Readiness Kit  

Department of Homeland Security: Helping Individuals with Disabilities Cope with Disaster  


Resources on Specific Conditions

Note: Links to specific programs or sites do not imply endorsement of any provider or service and are provided for information only. Links will be added updated frequently. Contact us to suggest resources to be included in this listing. 


Families and COVID-19

COVID-19 in Iowa  Statistics, maps, guidance, health resources, Test Iowa signup, vaccine links, language resources, food assistance and more

Your Life Iowa  A clearinghouse for multiple resources on dealing with COVID-19, mental health issues, and problems with drugs, alcohol, gaming or suicidal thoughts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  CDC COVID-19 facts and guidance for families, work, school and health care

CDC: COVID Planning for People with Disabilities  


Cognitive and Developmental Conditions

Iowa Brain Injury Resource Network   Support services for individuals with brain injury

Autism Speaks  Information and resources on autism spectrum disorder

Autism Speaks: Teaching Safety Resources to keep families safe at home and in the community

American Academy of Pediatrics: Developmental Disabilities  


Chronic Medical Conditions

Asthma Action Plan  Tips on managing asthma, from the IDPH

Prevent Blindness Iowa  

CDC: 11 Things to Know About Cerebral Palsy 

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation  

JDRF Juvenile Diabetes Resources  

Iowa's Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program  

Muscular Dystrophy Association of Iowa  

Epilepsy Foundation: Epilepsy in Childhood  


Sensory, Emotional and Behavioral Conditions

Understood: Sensory Processing Issues  

American Academy of Pediatrics: ADHD  

MentalHealth.gov: Behavioral and Emotional Disorders  


Child and Adolescent Mental Health

CDC: Children's Mental Health  

Iowa Department of Education: Child Mental Health  

Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine: Mental Health Resources for Adolescents and Young Adults  

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: Child Sex Trafficking Awareness and Help  



Contact Vicki Petersen

EMS for Children Coordinator

Bureau of Emergency and Trauma Services

Iowa Department of Public Health


Or use the Contact Us system to send questions online

Iowa Department of Public Health


24 hours a day, 365 days a year


For use by local public health agencies, hospitals, emergency medical services, emergency management coordinators and other emergency response agencies to notify the IDPH Duty Officer of public health emergencies.