Early Intervention Services: A Family-Professional Partnership. (Family & Community)

By Cantu, Carolyn | The Exceptional Parent, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Early Intervention Services: A Family-Professional Partnership. (Family & Community)


Cantu, Carolyn, The Exceptional Parent


"Your child may experience developmental delays." The shock of hearing that prognosis from the neonatologist or pediatrician is numbing. Some parents receive this news at the birth of their child, along with a diagnosis. Some notice milestones are not being met as their child develops. Either way, the initial trauma and emotional adjustment create sometimes-overwhelming feelings of guilt, anger, blame and depression. Questions race through parents' minds as they grapple with "What are we to expect? How can we help now? How will we ever afford the cost of treatments?" and most important, "Who will help us?"

Help for children and their families does exist, through early intervention programs nationwide. Early intervention programs are devoted to enhancing development, minimizing developmental delays and providing instruction, support and assistance to those children and their families. This commitment is ongoing.

HISTORY OF EARLY INTERVENTION PROGRAMS

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 initiated the course of action for early intervention programs and future legislation. By 1986, Congress established the Part H program for infants (aged zero to two years) and toddlers (aged three to five years). The legislation was considered momentous because it promised to provide services to all young children and their families. Research compiled by the mid 1980's strengthened the proposal considerably, suggesting significant progress in young children with disabilities who had received early intervention services. Cost-effectiveness figures were impressive enough to extend "free and appropriate education" to three- to five-year olds with disabilities. The states were now required to designate the most appropriate agency to determine services for that young population.

Gradually, as the legislation was applied nationwide, attention began to transfer from the individual child toward care of the child and family receiving care. Consequently, an inclusive, holistic approach was implemented in early childhood programs across the country, requiring fourteen components within each state system. Part H defined developmental delays, delineated eligibility and required execution of a multi-disciplinary evaluation of each eligible child, development of an individualized plan of intervention for the child and the family and a timetable to ensure services. The integrated approach toward child and family care was well underway.

Additional legislation honed these concepts. In 1997, Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA `97) focused on the services provided for young children with disabilities. Congress stipulated that there was an "urgent and substantial need to enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities and minimize their potential for developmental delay." It is in Part C that "services are required to be provided in the child's natural environment to the maximum extent possible." The law went on to emphasize the role of families in intervention "to enhance the capacity of families and the special needs of their infants and toddlers with disabilities." Developmental areas of concern and qualified personnel are clearly defined.

FAMILY CENTERED INTERVENTION

Although differences in names, service guidelines, policies and procedures occur state to state, early intervention service programs are presently designed to work in partnership with families. The purpose and practice is truly a collaboration of support and skills as parents and professionals work toward common goals. This is why families are considered a vital part of the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), for children aged zero to three years, then of the Individual Education Plan (IEP). These plans are the product of a cooperative effort between family and staff. Initially, the IFSP/IEP states the child's present level of functioning, parents' priorities, concerns, and the family's resources. …

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