Transition is a hefty topic here in Virginia, and I bet it’s probably a hefty topic in other states as well. Transition, and all of the requirements that go along with it, can be overwhelming to all members of the IFSP team. In VA, we often hear from service coordinators that transition is hard – hard to remember all of the steps involved, hard to complete the documentation accurately, hard to manage timelines, and hard to collaborate with receiving programs. For service providers (and service coordinators too), it can be hard to let families go. For families, transition can be a scary time of moving from the known to the unknown and learning to trust someone new with their child. Despite the challenges, we hope that in the end, transition is smooth and results in children and families moving to the next environment where they will be supported and successful.
That all sounds great, but how do you do it? What does smooth and successful transition look like?
A Flexible and Focused Journey
Answering those questions is tricky because transition should be an individualized process. It should be flexible but focused, with the journey being as important as the destination. We often think of transition as the journey from Part C early intervention (EI) to Part B early childhood special education preschool services. The DEC Recommended Practices on transition remind us to think more broadly. Transition in EI includes any change in environment, such as a preemie’s move from the NICU to home or a two year old’s move from home-based EI services to classroom-based preschool under Part B, Early Head Start, a local church preschool, or child care center.
DEC Recommended Practices: Transition
Transition often represents a big change for the family, so what we, as EI practitioners, do before, during, and after that change really matters. Let’s consider the two recommended practices and how what you do impacts what successful transition looks like.
TR1. Practitioners in sending and receiving programs exchange information before, during, and after transition about practices most likely to support the child’s successful adjustment and positive outcomes.
As we see in this practice, it matters what we do before, during, and after the journey:
Before transition: Exchanging information when preparing for transition might look like a service coordinator sharing the IFSP and evaluation information with the receiving program (with parent permission) at the point of referral. It might look like the parent sharing a homemade booklet about her child with the IEP team so they can learn who her child really is.
During transition: Imagine the speech therapist from the EI program talking with the receiving preschool teacher about how best to support the child’s communication starting the first day of school. Or, the EI physical therapist (PT) working closely with the receiving program’s PT to ensure the new program has the appropriate equipment so the child has the stability he needs to participate in group activities.
After transition: Even though the child will be discharged from the EI program just before transition, wouldn’t it be great if the receiving program staff could still reach out to the EI practitioners with questions about how to help the child adjust to the new environment? Similarly, the EI staff could reach out to the family to check in on the child’s adjustment and offer support, even just over the phone. Staying in touch, even though the child is no longer receiving EI services, would be a wonderful way to facilitate that seamless transition.
TR2. Practitioners use a variety of planned and timely strategies with the child and family before, during, and after the transition to support successful adjustment and positive outcomes for both the child and family.
Implementing this practice reminds us that transition should be well-planned and coordinated. For a service coordinator, this might look like closely monitoring required timelines for Part B referral, which in Virginia includes referring children by April 1st (or earlier in some localities) to ensure that eligible children start preschool the first day of the next school year. Service coordinators also ensure that transition planning occurs at least 90 days but not more than 9 months prior to the anticipated date of transition. Transition conferences are held so families can learn about their options and plan accordingly.
During the transition process, the service coordinator and other providers can help families prepare and provide needed information to the receiving programs (such as proof of residency). They may attend eligibility or IEP meetings with families for support. Service coordinators and providers can check in regularly with families about the process, answer questions, and link families with other parents who have been through the process.
Providers can help children and families prepare for the new environment by working together on outcomes to help the child be successful. Examples of this could include teaching the child to use an AAC device to communicate more clearly with others, helping the child learn to use a gait trainer to maneuver around obstacles in a busy setting, assisting the parent in finding opportunities for the child to learn to play near other children, or encouraging the family to teach the child to hang up a jacket, carry his backpack, or help clean up after lunch.
What transition looks like and how the journey unfolds will be different for each child and family. What we do, as EI practitioners, before, during, and after transition can help make sure the process is a positive one that prepares children (and their parents) to be successful wherever they go next.
What is one of the most important things you can do to help families prepare for transition?
How do you support families during and after transition?
Share how you implement the transition practices in the comments below!
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.