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 2)(current)
Hands hold a paper cutout family

In Part 1 of this series, we met Phoebe, a service coordinator, and Wyatt’s family. Wyatt had just been referred to early intervention, and his family was eager to begin services but feeling overwhelmed by the process and their son’s new diagnosis of cerebral palsy. We began the discussion about the DEC Recommended Practices (2014) under the Family strand, illustrating how Phoebe used them when supporting Wyatt’s family from intake through service delivery. Take a moment now and review the Part 1 blog post to catch up.

Now, let’s consider how Phoebe and Noelle, the physical therapist, implemented the last five family practices.

DEC Recommended Practices: Family (continued)

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.

When Phoebe joined a visit, she was happy to see Noelle coaching Wyatt’s mother in how to help Wyatt learn to support himself in sitting. Wyatt’s older sister was keeping Wyatt entertained by holding his favorite musical toy in front of him and singing songs. Wyatt was smiling and working hard to keep his head in mid-line so he could see his sister. Wyatt’s sister loved helping him learn and was his greatest cheerleader. One of his family’s biggest goals was helping Wyatt learn to sit so that he could more easily participate in playtime, bath time, and meals which were social, fun times for the family.

F6. Practitioners engage the family in opportunities that support and strengthen parenting knowledge and skills and parenting competence and confidence in ways that are flexible, individualized, and tailored to the family’s preferences.

Two weeks later, Wyatt’s mother called Phoebe, asking for ideas on how to help Wyatt participate in the local baby gym program. She’d taken Wyatt to a free class but was disheartened that he struggled with many activities. Phoebe suggested that they hold an IFSP review meeting to revisit Wyatt’s outcomes and goals and discuss how to help him at the baby gym. Phoebe called Noelle to update her and schedule the meeting in the early evening so that Wyatt’s father can attend, as he also wanted  to take Wyatt to weekend classes. During the meeting, the baby gym is added as a location for physical therapy and goals are reviewed. After the IFSP review was completed, Noelle discussed the activities at the baby gym class with Wyatt’s parents and they came up with several ideas to help Wyatt have fun.

F7. Practitioners work with the family to identify, access, and use formal and informal resources and supports to achieve family-identified outcomes or goals.

Noelle attended the next two baby gym classes to help Wyatt’s family access and use the play equipment. She helped Wyatt’s parents and the baby gym instructor problem-solve how to encourage Wyatt’s motor development while he played and interacted with the other children. He especially enjoyed playing with the parachute and popping bubbles, but needed assistance sitting upright during these activities. Wyatt’s parents used the strategies they practiced at home to help him with sitting, and determined that the bolsters at the gym could provide him with support when sitting or lying on his tummy. After these visits, Wyatt’s parents felt much more comfortable in the class. 

F8. Practitioners provide the family of a young child who has or is at risk for developmental delay/disability, and who is a dual language learner, with information about the benefits of learning in multiple languages for the child’s growth and development.

One day, Wyatt’s mother called Phoebe to tell her that she would begin working full-time soon. Her mother would be providing childcare and primarily spoke Spanish when at home, though she was bilingual. Wyatt’s mother was concerned that hearing both languages would interfere with his language development. Phoebe discussed the benefits of Wyatt learning a second language, and offered to email his mother information about encouraging Wyatt’s learning of both languages. She assured Wyatt’s mother that Noelle would continue to monitor all areas of Wyatt’s development too. Phoebe called Noelle to fill her in, and services began alternating between the grandmother’s home and periodic visits in the early evening with Wyatt’s parents.

F9. Practitioners help families know and understand their rights.

When it was time for Wyatt’s annual IFSP review, Phoebe reviewed the family rights and procedural safeguards again to ensure that Wyatt’s parents were aware of their rights.  She offered a document explaining these rights, and completed documentation of the discussion.  By then, Wyatt’s parents were very familiar with this information, as Phoebe had discussed rights often throughout the past year, especially at IFSP reviews. 

F10. Practitioners inform families about leadership and advocacy skill-building opportunities and encourage those who are interested to participate.

Phoebe has been pleased to see how Wyatt’s family has grown from being overwhelmed with the process to feeling confident in their role on the IFSP team. This growth led her to ask Wyatt’s mother if she would be interested in being a resource to new families as they enter the program. Wyatt’s mother happily agreed. When an opportunity to serve on a local board that oversees community services for children with disabilities became available, Phoebe also asked Wyatt’s family about their interest, and his father decided to volunteer. Where they were once eager to get services started, Wyatt’s parents are now eager to help other families and participate in community activities that build strong supports for their son and other children.

As you’ve just read, the DEC Family Practices can be used as a guide for supporting families throughout the EI process. These practices help service coordinators and service providers build family confidence and competence from the first contacts throughout service delivery.  What we do in early intervention matters…but it is HOW we do it, how we support families, that really makes the difference.

Be sure to check out these Family Practice Guides for Practitioners from the ECTA Center:

Family Capacity Building in Early Childhood Intervention (PDF, New Window)

Supporting Family Member Informed Decision Making (PDF, New Window)

Now, pick one practice guide and forward it on to your colleagues/staff.

How have YOU implemented these practices today? 

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.

16 comments on “DEC Recommended Practices: Family (Part 2)

  • Patty Ferraro says:

    I would use the Supporting Family Member Informed Decision Making Guide. I can’t email it for some reason so I need to print it out and I will give it to my co-worker. These practices give the parents more control over what is going to occur for their child. Anytime you give people the tool of knowledge it allows them to make clearer decisions.

  • Nadine Rivera says:

    I also do agree that informed decision making is a key component, however I would use the theme of family and professional collaboration being that it is vital for both parties to work together in assisting and achieving the families goals. Although all three themes are vital components to the services are well as the development.

  • Yes, I agree the with the these resources that work well with families.

  • Sarah Vresko says:

    I think that the family guide is a wonderful resource. It would help to explain all of the different roles/professionals that may be helping their child. Parents often share with me that they are confused as to what each person is doing with their child and what their role is.

  • Beverly Jane Harshbarger says:

    I love these resources and plan on using them with in our class. I do believe that parents need to know who working with their child, why and what they are doing with their child.

    • Yes, that’s so important. When families understand the who, why, and what, it can improve the connections between what happens in school or EI visits and what happens the rest of the time with the child at home.

  • Gina Athas says:

    I like the Informed Decision Making Handout and feel that giving families the information to make good decisions that benefit their individual situation is critical. Parents need to do what’s best for them but can only do that if they know their rights and their options. I feel good when a family turns to me when they need info because it means they trust me.

  • Stacey Kennedy says:

    I would use the Family Capacity Builder Guide. I think it is a great tool to empower parents to practice skills during everyday activities and routines. Too often parents think therapy time needs to be separate and structure from their everyday activities. And, will often say “I didn’t have time”. To provide parents with real-life activities that can be practiced four or five times a day during their regular everyday routine, the family will be more willing to practice the skill.

    • Yes, that’s such an important point! If we can help families link strategies to what they are already doing or what they want to do, practicing will hopefully be much easier. I do think that EI adds to a parent’s day and to his/her mental load just by the nature of being something new, but we can try to make it easier to remember and use intervention strategies by how we approach support. Thanks for joining the discussion, Stacey!

  • Rose McNeilly says:

    I like the Informed Decision Making Handout as well. I think that it helps parents (especially new parents) feel more confident in the decisions that they make.

  • Penny Perdick says:

    I really liked the Family Engagement Practices Checklist so that I always make sure the family and I are always working as a team.

  • Evelyn says:

    I like the Family Capacity Building in Childhood Intervention because it is what I do in practice. I’m always looking for natural routines in a child’s home that can be used to demonstrate, model and coach families. I collaborate with family member when trying different strategies to improve the child’s language skills.


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