Academic journal article Exceptional Children

New Precedent in Family Policy: Individualized Family Service Plan

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

New Precedent in Family Policy: Individualized Family Service Plan

Article excerpt

New Precedent in Family Policy: Individualized Family Service Plan

The 1986 Amendment to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Public Law 99-457, in both spirit and word, fundamentally alter public policies for children with handicaps or developmental delays--and for their families. In addition to extending federal requirements for special educational services to children between the ages of 3 to 5 years by 1990, Part H of the law established a discretionary program to assist states in the development and implementation of a system of early intervention services for handicapped infants and toddlers and their families. Embedded within the provisions of Part H is the requirement that early intervention programs develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for each enrolled child and his or her family. The IFSP effectively redefines the service recipient as being the family (rather than the child alone), requires explicit judgments about the family's service needs, and reconstitutes the decision-making team by mandating family representation. These three critical features, in both symbolic and practical terms, marka precedent in public policies for handicapped children and their families.

This article presents two perspectives on the IFSP as a barometer of change in family policy. It begins with a brief discussion of the traditional ambivalence of policy makers to mandate services for families solely because they have a child with a handicapping condition. It then presents a review of the legislative requirements for the development and content of the IFSP. Finally, two contrasting perspectives on the IFSP are presented: as either a radical change in family policy or as an example of legislative incrementalism. The implications of both perspectives for service providers and families are discussed.

POLICIES TOWARD FAMILIES WITH A

HANDICAPPED CHILD

Although public policies toward families with a handicapped child acknowledge families' legitimate claim on public resources, they historically have not expected or permitted families to exercise this claim equally (Krauss, 1986). The assumption of special family needs is based on decades of research enumerating the social, emotional, and financial consequences of parenting a child with a handicap (Blacher, 1984; McConachie, 1986). Affected families have given vivid accounts of their often extraordinary efforts to secure services for their child while also attending to the general welfare of the family unit (Featherstone, 1980). This body of work has been credited with the positive impact of justifying the use of public resources to assist families in the care and development of their handicapped children (Farber, 1986). This work, however, also has been criticized for its reliance on a pathological or deficit model of family functioning and adaptation (Crnic, Friedrich, & Greenberg, 1983).

Moroney (1976) noted that public policies for families with handicapped children typically are based on a model of crisis intervention in which services are provided only to those who have exhausted private avenues for meeting acute or chronic difficulties. The reluctance of governmental policy makers to support preventive family programs reflects an historical and cultural ambivalence to intrude on the privacy and sanctity of individual families (Steiner, 1981). As a result, services are rationed according to criteria designed to ensure that only the most "in need" are covered (Krauss, 1986; Mallroy, 1981).

Service-use studies have confirmed repeatedly that families differ in their need and use of publicly supported services (Krauss & Giele, 1987; Moroney, 1980; Suelzle & Keenan, 1981). Families also differ in their preferences for the amount and nature of their involvement in service delivery systems (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1982). Further, the expanding literature on the positive impacts of rearing a child with disabilities has tempered the more common view that such families experience predominantly negative impacts on family life (Goldfarb, Brotherson, Summers, & Turnbull, 1986; Powell & Ogle, 1985). …

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