Sam is a service coordinator who works in a large EI program in a metropolitan area. He typically supports about 75 families at a time and his program Collage of Numbersrequires him to make monthly contacts with all of the families. Sam does his best to keep track of everyone’s needs, but has moments when he feels like he can’t remember the names of the children as he is pulling up to the homes or dialing the phone. His colleague, Tania, works in a much smaller rural program and typically supports about 25 families, most of whom live in poverty and have many complex needs. She feels the same struggle at times.

Why would service coordinators with such different numbers feel the same struggles?

It’s Not Just About the Numbers

As we see with Sam and Tania, the number of families served is not a particularly accurate index of the intensity of the workload for an early intervention service coordinator. There is certainly a huge difference between supporting 25 and 75 families, just in sheer amount of information to manage, but that’s not the only factor to consider when trying to determine the true workload and how to manage it. Here are a few others considerations:

Level of Need

Some programs serve communities with higher levels of poverty and other more complex needs, like where Tania works. A typical week for Tania might include spending hours helping families who are homeless find housing, linking families with resources for basic necessities like diapers and food, calling to coordinate services with multiple community agencies, and helping service providers reach families who move frequently or for whom intervention is not the highest priority because other needs take more precedence. Sam has weeks like this too, but finds that more of his families need minimal service coordination or have fewer complex needs. Comparing the two service coordination experiences based on numbers alone is like comparing apples and oranges.

Distance & Travel Time

The distance a service coordinator has to travel to see children and families makes a huge difference in his or her time management. Both Tania and Sam experience challenges with this. It might take Tania an hour and a half to drive between visits so she tries to see families who live on the same side of the county on the same day whenever possible. For Sam, the families he sees all live within the city but he finds himself battling traffic and must be mindful about how to plan his day around heavy traffic times.

Working Efficiently

How service coordinators feel can also depend on how efficiently they work too. Efficiency can be affected by program issues, like technical problems with electronic documentation systems or unequal distribution of work across staff. It can also be affected by how a service coordinator manages the day-to-day work, including how he or she schedules visits, keeps up with family and service provider communication, prioritizes duties, and completes documentation.

Digging Deeper than the Numbers

Challenges are a natural part of any job, especially one as dynamic as service coordination. When struggles pop up that seem to be related to how many families you support, it’s a good time to reflect on the complexities of the job and see if there are adjustments you can make to how you do your work. Here are a few strategies to try if you are feeling frustrations like Sam and Tania:

Step back and take a breath – It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes. Take a moment to think about how you are managing your workload and what could be changed. We all have these moments along the way.

Build 3-5 min into your schedule to review the last contact note before the next call or visit – A simple but effective habit to develop!

Summarize each visit – Record a brief summary of the visit or call in your planner or using voice-activated software that can be easily reviewed before the next contact. Be sure that whatever means you use keeps the family’s information confidential too.

Schedule nearby visits on the same day – Whenever possible, cluster your visits to reduce travel time.

Be purposeful in how you plan your time – For example, in months when you don’t have many IFSP reviews or face-to-face contacts due, use that time wisely. Make phone contacts with families, call service providers you haven’t heard from in a while, review your documentation, prepare for next month’s reviews, etc.

Talk with your colleagues & supervisor for ideas – Talk with your colleagues about how they manage their work, listening for new ideas like a spreadsheet they use to keep up with due dates that you can use. Your supervisor can also suggest strategies you can try to help you feel confident that you are doing your job well. Use your resources!

So how do you manage?

System Managers & Supervisors – How do you support your staff when they are managing these issues?

Service Coordinators – What strategies do you use to support families with different levels of need? What tips can you share for working efficiently, both while in the car and in the office?

Service Providers, feel free to join the conversation too!

2 comments on “You Support Fewer Families than I Do…So Why are We Both Struggling?

  • Cori Hill says:

    What an accurate blog, Dana. I’m currently teaching a JMU grad course for perspective early interventionists and they love reading from “real people.” I’m calling out to all of my SC colleagues…..PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE post your thoughts, strategies, and ideas about this topic. I PROMISE, we will use them in class! 🙂


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