Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

Early Intervention Strategies for Success, Tips, Insight and Support for EI Practitioners


  • Join Us
  • All
  • It’s Saturday and You See Derick’s Family at the Mall…What Do You Do?(current)

Woman Pushing Baby in StrollerYou know the feeling…you see a family you support at the mall or Wal-Mart.  It happens on the weekend or in the evening outside of an intervention visit. In those few seconds before they see you, you have to decide what to do. Do you go over and say “hi” or do you wait to see if they come up to you? You notice that they are with other people whom you haven’t met before. You consider the very real possibility that these people could be friends or family members who don’t know that the child is enrolled in early intervention. If you walk up to the family, they may feel like they have to introduce you. Will the parents be okay with that?

Do you keep walking as if you haven’t noticed them? You consider what they may think if you don’t say “hi” and you don’t want to be rude but…

Then there is also the consideration for your friend/spouse who is shopping with you. Should you introduce him or her to the family? How do you do that without breaching the family’s confidentiality?

Respecting Confidentiality, Boundaries, & Parent Preference

I know this seems like a lot of questions for one brief scenario, but these are all important things to think about when you run into a family outside of the typical, planned intervention situation. These considerations really revolve around confidentiality and what is comfortable for the family. I have experienced parents walking up to me and introducing themselves to my husband. I’ve had parents introduce me to someone else as a teacher or just as a friend (when I don’t think they wanted the other person to know about our relationship). I have also had parents notice me but not come over to speak at all.

What’s Your Plan?

My husband and I developed a system where I would cue him that I saw a family I worked with (without pointing them out to him) and he would fade into the background or duck into a shop so that if they wanted to talk to me it would be less uncomfortable for everyone.  I was happy to talk with them but wanted to be careful to respect their preferences and confidentiality outside of the regular visit. Early interventionists work closely with families and form close professional relationships. Monitoring our boundaries can sometimes be a challenge outside of the intervention visit!

What do you do when you see a family you support in a public place (that’s not a planned intervention visit)? How do you handle introductions?

16 comments on “It’s Saturday and You See Derick’s Family at the Mall…What Do You Do?

  • Cori says:

    I recall similar situations, especially in my small community. My policy was that I chose NOT to approach a family. I’d wave, nod but if they wanted to speak, they could approach me. If my husband/family was with me, I simply introduced them (MY family) but did not use the name of the family in EI. You are right though, Dana. This is one of those situations that should be discussed by supervisors with new staff and also with students who are newly learning about professional boundaries.

    • Being prepared for this kind of situations is important so talking it out with students and newbies is a great idea. Providers could also discuss it with families to find out how THEY would like the situation handled. That way everyone knows what to expect, which could be very helpful especially in a small community where their paths are more likely to cross.

  • Jeff Beard says:

    Agree that discussing with families should be a part of the initial meeting when services begin. How does the family want to handle such a situation? this also builds the family’s confidence in you–that you care about them and their privacy. Thanks for the article, Dana.

  • amy cocorikis says:

    A situation just presented itself today when I overheard a Service Coordinator attempting to contact a family at their job. The receptionist wouldn’t put through the call unless she shared what agency she was from, and since the name of the agency would, in fact violate the family’s right to privacy, the Service Coordinator said she wasn’t at liberty to share that information. Other Service Coordinators who overheard and either had never been in the situation before or didn’t consider the implications of sharing the information then began a great brainstorming discussion!

    • That’s so interesting, Amy. There’s nothing like an in-the-moment situation to get everyone thinking! I’m curious – what did the service coordinator end up doing? Did she ever get through to speak to the parent?

      • amy cocorikis says:

        The group brainstormed and the Service Coordinator then decided to leave a detailed message on the home phone number explaining and asking the mom how she wanted to handle the situation. Thought it was great to reinforce for the family that they are in the driver’s seat!

  • Barbara Mulligan says:

    I agree with Jeff. I approach it at the initial visit. When I am explaining the confidentiality part of the Rights and Safeguards and HIPAA, I explain to the family that confidentiality even covers seeing us at Walmart or the grocery store. I jokingly say that I do not want to seem like a stranger/snot/fill in the blank, but that I will not approach them, that the privacy issue says that they have to speak first which is their choice. And that I won’t introduce them to anyone with me. I keep the tone light but do stress that I respect their privacy. The families are usually very nice and are glad that I addressed it. When we do spot each other at the store, our first reaction is to giggle. Then I let the families take the lead. And on the Shore, we do run into our families all the time!

    • I love the way you say that you cover it upfront but do so using humor to keep the discussion light. Discussing this in the context of talking about confidentiality sounds like the perfect time to bring it up. Thanks for the strategies, Barbara! 🙂

  • dianelly1 says:


    I am a developmental interventionist and I would like some ideas on working with a 2-3 year old child with language delay. What activities can I use and what recommendations can I suggest for the family. Also I have a child with behavior issues and I am also looking for activities to work on.

  • Lauren says:

    I have often wondered about this. I have not encountered a family in public from early intervention, and I assumed that we were not allowed to approach them since their services are confidential. However, I suppose it is their choice if they want to come talk to me. However, that does leave the awkward possibility that they think you are ignoring them, or not being friendly by coming to say hi. Personally I think I would take this chance just because I could explain it to them the next time I saw them in therapy, and would rather have that happen than them get upset about breaching confidentiality.

    • Yes, this really can be a tricky situation. I agree with your initial assumption about not approaching families since their services are confidential. I agree, too, that it is the family’s choice to approach you and then you follow the family’s lead. It might still be awkward, I know. There are some great strategies here in the chat so I hope you find them helpful. My advice would be, when in doubt, to honor family confidentiality then explain why you couldn’t approach them later. Families usually understand and appreciate the effort.

  • Gabrielle says:

    I had a coworker tell me that over the weekend she saw one of her families and the child was having a meltdown. I am unsure if the family saw her or not (she didn’t say), but for the sake of the argument lets say they did see her and expressed a desire for help. How does one handle this? (I am a newbie, btw)

    • Great question, Gabrielle. Hey, we were all newbies once. I think the answer to your questions probably depends on the family and the situation. If the family asks for help, then it’s fine to assist but be sure to follow their lead. If they didn’t ask for help, I don’t think I’d intervene, unless something worrisome was happening (like the parent was losing control of him/herself or the child was doing something dangerous). If you do respond to the family’s request, I’d suggest staying in your coaching role as much as possible – by asking “how can I help?” rather than stepping right in to interact with the child. The parent might need you to watch her other child while she helps her toddler calm down, rather than wanting you to directly intervene with the toddler. I think it’s always a good idea to ask first and follow the parent’s lead. If the meltdown happens in the midst of you chatting with the parent (even at the mall), then make room for the parent to handle the situation rather than jumping right in. I know it feels awkward to watch a child tantrum or a parent struggle, but especially when in public, take your cues from the parent in terms of how to help or even whether or not to intervene. Hope that helps. 🙂


Leave Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

VCUE Logo, ITC Log, Infant Toddler Connection of Virginia Logo and Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services