Will, the service coordinator, is sensing that Malika, Jeremiah’s mother, is feeling overwhelmed after the assessment. Malika has agreed to proceed with developing Jeremiah’s IFSP, but when they get to discussing possible outcomes, she becomes quiet and tells the other team members to put whatever they think Jeremiah needs to learn on the plan. Will has two choices here: 1) do what Malika says and let the rest of the team take over, or 2) be responsive to Malika and help her be able to participate in the discussion.
If Will chooses option #1, the IFSP might be filled with outcomes that aren’t based on what is most important to Malika. Skill-based outcomes could pop-up that are based on what Jeremiah missed on the evaluation and assessment. It’s also more likely that the outcomes will be discipline-specific, meaning that the IFSP will have “PT goals” or “speech goals.” Without Malika providing input about how her family works, what motivates Jeremiah, and when he struggles, the outcomes are likely to be less meaningful to Malika and her family and harder to address in their daily lives. This is not the preferred way to write outcomes or the best way to begin the parent-provider partnership.
If Will chooses option #2, then he is treading into more sensitive water. He needs to acknowledge what he is sensing with Malika and find ways to support her so that she feels like she has an active and important role to play. If she is overwhelmed, she may need to have her hand held (as Erin suggested in our last blog post). What should Will do?
Here are a few suggestions to help Malika and the rest of the IFSP team move forward with developing outcomes:
Check-in before you jump in – Will should probably check in with Malika to see how she’s feeling and if she wants to take a break or complete the IFSP at a later time. Just offering these options can alleviate some of the pressure parents can feel that they have to complete the plan at that moment.
Go back to previous conversations about the family’s priorities and concerns – Start the outcome discussion by revisiting what Malika previously shared about what’s important to her, her concerns and priorities for Jeremiah’s development. As the discussion continues, keep bringing it back to what you know about the child and family.
Summarize the assessment and ask Malika what she would like to address first – Give a few examples of Jeremiah’s strengths and areas of needs. Relate them to his everyday life to help focus the discussion and let Malika pick what’s most important to her to start with.
Ask: “What would make your life easier? What would you most like Jeremiah to be able to do?” – If you can pinpoint something important like this, it can get the ball rolling. Then you can help link what the team knows about Jeremiah’s development to the activity that Malika identifies. Helping parents understand how their everyday activities provide the context for their children’s learning starts here.
It’s okay if you end the day with only 1 or 2 IFSP outcomes – It really is. The initial IFSP is only a beginning; you can always add to it or make adjustments later when Malika is more comfortable with the process.
Ask for Malika’s input regarding service recommendations – As the team (including the mother) discusses services following outcome development, ask Malika how often she’d like support. Be careful to balance guiding her to be a part of the decision-making process and avoiding overwhelming her further.
The important thing to remember here is to be responsive to parent’s needs, as well as those of the child – we tend to be very aware of what children need but can overlook parents’ needs if we aren’t paying attention. Guiding the parent during this process does not mean developing the plan while the parent passively listens. It means being flexible in how you support the parent as he or she participates in the process. HOW you guide the family, HOW you facilitate the team discussion and HOW you weave together the family’s input with input from other team members are what makes the difference.
What other suggestions do you have for this team? What would you do if you were Will or one of the service providers?