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


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  • DEC Recommended Practices: Family (Part 1)(current)

Wyatt was just referred to early intervention (EI) and his parents are unsure about what to expect. EI is a Hands holding a paper cut out family.new system for them, one full of acronyms, paperwork, and professionals. They are eager to get services in place but are feeling overwhelmed by the process and Wyatt’s new diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Their service coordinator, Phoebe, met the family at the intake and is working with them to schedule the assessment. She wants to support them in a way that is respectful and responsive to what they need while helping them feel comfortable and informed.

Using the Family RPs to Guide Our Work

When you read the Family component of the DEC Recommended Practices (2014), you’ll find that they discuss three themes that are important to EI: family-centered practices, family capacity-building practices, and family and professional collaboration. Our work should always be family-centered because infants and toddlers develop within the context of their families. The lens through which we provide support should always focus on family capacity-building. If we are doing our jobs right, parents’ knowledge and skills expand and their abilities to facilitate their children’s development, access resources, and get their needs met are strengthened. How this happens is through a collaborative partnership with the family, where we are equal team members, working together to develop and implement the IFSP to help them achieve their goals for the child.

In our example, Phoebe can use these guiding themes and the specific RPs to reflect on the support she provides. Let’s look at the first five family RPs and see how Phoebe has implemented them.

DEC Recommended Practices: Family

F1. Practitioners build trusting and respectful partnerships with the family through interactions that are sensitive and responsive to cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity.

This began for Phoebe when she first contacted Wyatt’s family to schedule the intake. She scheduled the intake early in the morning, when both parents could be home, as Wyatt’s mother works the afternoon shift at a local nursing home. She took time to get to know the family and explained the importance of a trusting partnership between the family and other team members.

F2. Practitioners provide the family with up-to-date, comprehensive and unbiased information in a way that the family can understand and use to make informed choices and decisions.

Phoebe explained the EI process, family rights and safeguards, and family cost share so that Wyatt’s parents could make informed decisions about next steps. She took her time and offered the family opportunities to ask questions. She applied this information to their specific situation, encouraging them to help decide who would attend the assessment, when it would be scheduled, and what information they would like to share with the rest of the team.

F3. Practitioners are responsive to the family’s concerns, priorities, and changing life circumstances.

Phoebe asked open-ended questions to determine what the family wanted to see happen as a result of their participation in EI. She asked about their daily routines, their interests, their concerns, and what went well and what was challenging related to Wyatt’s development. She was careful not to make assumptions about what Wyatt or the family would need, based on his diagnosis. After their discussion, Phoebe asked for the family’s permission to include this information in Wyatt’s IFSP and share it with the rest of the team so that they could use it when developing outcomes and goals.  

F4. Practitioners and the family work together to create outcomes or goals, develop individualized plans, and implement practices that address the family’s priorities and concerns and the child’s strengths and needs.

During the assessment and IFSP meeting, Phoebe helped Wyatt’s parents share what they told her during the intake and provide updates. She frequently turned to them first for their input into Wyatt’s outcomes and goals and what types of services they felt they needed. Phoebe helped everyone on the IFSP team keep the family’s priorities, interests, routines, and goals in mind as they developed outcomes and determined services. She used her leadership skills to guide a family-centered process.

F5. Practitioners support family functioning, promote family confidence and competence, and strengthen family-child relationships by acting in ways that recognize and build on family strengths and capacities.

After the IFSP was developed and services were in place, Phoebe regularly checked in with the family and the physical therapist to make sure that intervention focused on building the family’s capacity to facilitate Wyatt’s development. She shared her excitement about Wyatt’s progress, often complimenting his parents on their successes with weaving intervention strategies into Wyatt’s daily routine. She checked in often to find out how the family was feeling about Wyatt’s progress and their services and to see if any new issues has arisen that might affect family functioning. She was attentive and responsive when the family or the physical therapist expressed a concern and pulled the team together to meet whenever needed.

Whether you are a service coordinator like Phoebe, or a direct service provider, you can use the Family RPs to reflect on the quality of the support you provide. Take a moment and check out these Family Checklists, which are one-page tools you can easily use as you think about what you do everyday:

Family-Centered Practices Checklist (PDF, New Window)

Informed Family Decision-Making Practices Checklist (PDF, New Window)

Family Engagement Practices Checklist (PDF, New Window)

Family Capacity-Building Practices Checklist (PDF, New Window)

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this series to see how Phoebe applies the last five family practices in her work. Now, take a few minutes and think about your day. Click on one of the checklists and take 60 seconds to reflect on what you do and what you could do even better!

How have you applied these practices today? 

Pick one checklist and forward the link to a colleague today. How else could you use these checklists to improve your practices or those of your staff?

To read more about how to implement other DEC Recommended Practices, be sure to check out the rest of this series by searching for “DEC Recommended Practices” using the search feature at the top of the page.

19 comments on “DEC Recommended Practices: Family (Part 1)

  • Patty Ferraro says:

    I am very much aware of the needs of my parents and I try to schedule all of my meetings around times that work for them. My schedule can be very flexible so that both parents can attend.
    Also, I do understand that we speak in an alphabet soup language. I give my parents a list of acronyms and what each of them means. They can review them as needed.
    My favorite Checklist is the Family Engagement Questionnaire.I like to send it to the parents before our first meeting so they can become familiar with it and maybe answer some of the questions before I arrive. Then we can dig deeper into the questionnaire and use it as a springboard so our future meetings.

    • Thanks Patty! It sounds like you are very purposefully using some great resources. I love the idea of giving out a list of acronyms. We have a list of VA acronyms too. Giving the family a questionnaire also gives them something to do to start actively participating in the EI process from the very beginning. As you said, it can be educational too and help get the conversation started.

  • I like your ideas Patti! The resources you’ve chose seem to be working out very well for you and your families. A questionnaire will help you and your families become more comfortable to start the Early intervention process.

  • Sarah Vresko says:

    Yes, I agree that the resources you’re utilizing are a great benefit to your families. Getting the conversation started is such an important step in helping. Building the rapport will be key!

  • Beverly Jane Harshbarger says:

    I believe that good communication with the families is for most very important to having a good relationship with them. I really like the questionnaires, which we use in our classroom. They provide good information.

  • Gina Athas says:

    I like the Capacity Building Checklist because, using only the Zoom platform during Covid, I’m always thinking of activities for the family to do that allows me to engage with them remotely. I find that, more than ever, I have to suggest household activities that will engage the child so that mom doesn’t have to run after the child with her computer. Moms are usually very receptive to activities that they enjoy and that will engage their little one.

  • Stacey Kennedy says:

    I would use The Family Engagement Practice Checklist. We do use Parent Questionaire, but not all parents complete it thoroughly or may not know what to write. The Engagement Practice Checklist will help frame conversations with family to be sure their concerns and priorities are being heard. It is also a good framework to work with the family on a weekly basis as concerns, resources, and supports may change over time.

  • Dianne Crowley says:

    The checklists are a great tool, though it took me some time to go through them all. I’m very glad that they are available in English and Spanish. One checklist that I found very useful is the Transition Checklist. There is a lot that may be missed as children move on from the B-3 to the 3-to-5 program or into the community. Having a comprehensive and wholistic discussion as to what is going to happen after a child turns 3 will allow for continuity and a sense that we’re not simply just ending a case.

  • Suella Guthrie says:

    I find that asking their concerns, rather than just reading the outcome, helps me understand more of what they want their child to be able to do. I do like the idea of a list of acronyms since they can be very overwhelming when we use them without stating what we are actually saying.

  • Rose McNeilly says:

    I always ask what parents are the most concerned about. I find that the answer is sometimes very different than what is on the IFSP. I circle back to the goals when the parents have finished and incorporate that in as well

  • Sandra says:

    Listening to families is so important. I try to remember also that the families needs can be different from week to week, or even day to day.

  • Vera Muchow says:

    Family is the center for all services – supporting them by providing info, etc benefits all. need a strong bae on which to build


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