Answering this question with a “Sure you can!” makes the answer sound simple, but if you’re a service coordinator you may be finding that using coaching "Sure you can!"strategies isn’t as easy as you thought. In Virginia, we’ve heard from some service coordinators that coaching is not a good fit with what they do. We’ve heard that coaching is more of a strategy for educators and therapists, that it can’t be used because it’s the service coordinator’s job to “do” rather than “teach.” Having both practiced as a service coordinator and an educator, I truly believe that the best service coordinators are a little bit of both. A teaching degree is not required…I mean that service coordinators are most effective when they know community resources AND know how to help families learn to advocate for and access resources themselves.

Service Coordinators as Coaches

Sure, a service coordinator could “do” everything for a family, but what’s the long-term outcome of that? Families love you, you feel good about yourself, but what impact does that have? Once the family leaves early intervention, who will they turn to when they need assistance? Rather than “doing” for them, I would suggest that coaching them to “do” for themselves will have a much longer-lasting effect with more positive outcomes. Just like the how therapist teaches the parent strategies to support the child’s development, the service coordinator can teach resourcefulness that can carry on for years to come.

Supporting Cailin’s Family

Think about the following scenario:

Cailin’s family is newly referred to EI by the local homeless shelter. When Leslie first meets Cailin’s father, Mike, she learns that the family only has four days left before they must move out. When she notices Cailin’s droopy diaper, Mike tells Leslie he only has a day’s worth of diapers left. He’s extremely stressed but doing the best he can since he lost his job two months ago. He’s concerned about Cailin’s development but really needs to find housing. Leslie’s first impulse is to jump into crisis management mode and go by diapers for him. She also thinks that she needs to call other shelters and apartments in the area to find the family a place to live.

Leslie has two options: she can “do” for Cailin’s family and jump in to solve their problems, or she can talk with Mike and try using some coaching strategies to find out what he knows, what he’s already tried, and what he wants to do next.

Resource-based Coaching Practices

According to Rush & Shelden (2011), resource-based intervention practices align well with coaching because they focus on strengthening the family’s capacity to:

1. Identify their own priorities and the resources available to address them;

2. Access those resources; and

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of those resources (see pgs. 136-137).

To help Mike move through these three steps, Leslie can use open-ended questions to explore how he might go about meeting his family’s needs:

Getting Diapers for Cailin – Leslie might ask Mike some reflective questions such as “How might you go about getting more diapers?” or “What options do you have for getting enough diapers to get you through until payday?” These are important questions to ask before Leslie tells Mike that she knows about a church pantry that gives away baby supplies every Wednesday afternoon. She’s not keeping this resource from him; she is probing his knowledge of his own resources first. He might answer that he can ask his sister for help until he gets paid on Friday. This way, rather than jumping to a resource outside of his network, he solves the problem himself.

Finding Housing – Leslie could ask “What kinds of things have you done so far to look for housing?” or “How could you find out about housing options?” Again, asking these questions before she launches into her resource list helps Mike access his prior knowledge and informal resources and build on them. It puts him in control. He may also learn skills he could use to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Rather than going back to the office to call other housing options (which I’ve done many times), Leslie could sit with Mike, discuss resources that he knows about and those she’s aware of, and provide him with the contact info for any new resources. She could suggest that he call them during the visit so that they can rule out any that aren’t available. Leslie could help Mike problem-solve next steps by developing a Coaching Plan to outline what’s happening now, what Mike wants to happen (which could be different from what Leslie thinks should happen), and what specific actions need to be taken (see The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook, pg 77). By working as a coach, rather than as a savior, Leslie will be providing more meaningful support that will hopefully increase Mike’s capacity to meet his family’s needs right now and in the future.

Leslie’s Next Visit

On her next visit, Mike mentions that he needs child care for Cailin so that he can find a job but he can’t afford to pay much. Remember that he lost his job a few months ago so must have had child care before…

How could you coach Mike through identifying resources (informal and formal), accessing and evaluating them?

Share your ideas for Leslie and Mike in the comments below!

Reference: Rush, D. D., & Shelden, M. L. (2011). The early childhood coaching handbook. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.


4 comments on “Can Service Coordinators Use Coaching?

  • Nathan Travis says:

    Gosh Dana. You are so good. This was an amazing write up. I really liked the topic and case study w/examples from “the book” in EI!! 🙂
    Keep up the great posts. I really wish all of our less resourceful and more “at risk” families could each have an iPhone w/data, text and call plan b/c it really would be sooooooo easy for them to do their own research, leg work and problem solving! I know it works for me in a split second! It would allow them to compare and narrow choices to what fits for them (transportation, cost, # of kids at daycare, etc) without having to do all the “running around” they want to do w/SCs or family members that are often tired of helping. My 2 cents. I know it’s a dream but it really would be nice for them!!! I guess if I was in their spot it would be the LAST thing on my mind but if it was donated or a charity thing…… Keep up the great work & posts!


    • Thanks Nathan! Yes, wouldn’t that be something if all families had access to a resource like that! You make a great point about it possibly being the last thing on a struggling family’s mind, but the truth is that many parents DO have a mobile phone. On our recent webinar about families who experience homelessness, the speaker said that many families do maintain a mobile phone because that method of contact travels with them no matter where they live. I’m not sure if they are able to pay for data (which can be pricey), but if they have do have internet access, perhaps the SC could coach them through how to efficiently search for resources, save them in the phone, etc. It’s a wonderful dream you’ve got there! 🙂

  • Leah Davidson says:

    Hi Dana! As a Service Coordinator, I especially like your point about putting the client in control. As uncomfortable as it can be for me to look someone in the eye and say “How might you go about finding a preschool/apartment/job/toys for your child?” I’m trying to do it more often. I’m trying to trust my clients more -trusting that they have the skills to think through the issue when given the space to do so. Reading this blog is a good reminder for me to keep striving to trust my clients first, rather than relying on my perspective to lead the conversation.

    • I’m so happy to read that you are trying this more often, Leah! It really isn’t easy to step back and trust this process. The great thing about it is that, as a service coordinator, you can still share your valuable perspective and knowledge of resources once you know where the family wants to go. I think using coaching as a service coordinator matches so well with that EI mantra of “meeting families where they are.” Now, with coaching strategies, we have more great ways to help us really find out where they are and where they want to go. Please keep me posted on how your practice grows as you using coaching!


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