The presence of an engaged service coordinator who understands the role and skillfully conducts the many responsibilities of the position ensures a well-coordinated approach to EI service delivery. It is widely acknowledged in the EI field that families have the right to high-quality, individualized EI services; our field must commit to including service coordination in this acknowledgement by ensuring that the professionals who provide this service receive the attention, understanding, respect, and resources they need and deserve. (DEC and ITCA, 2020, p 10)
Wow. This quote is from the summary of the Service Coordination and Early Intervention – Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and IDEA Infant & Toddler Coordinators Association (ITCA) Joint Position Statement which was recently released in December 2020. It’s a powerful message for our field that’s intended to help us leave behind the unfortunate idea of service coordinators as simply paper pushers. It signals to leaders, administrators, and team members, including families, that service coordinators (SCs) are vitally important professionals who play key roles in the delivery of quality early intervention (EI). It’s about time. I’m proud to have been a part of the development of this statement and eager to spread the word.
A Joint Call to Action
The statement was written, reviewed, and finalized as a collaboration between DEC and ITCA. It represents the voice and beliefs of EI professionals from multiple disciplines who are members of DEC and Part C coordinators across the country. Together, these groups came to the conclusion that we needed a strong Call to Action in support of service coordinators and specific information about the knowledge, skills, beliefs, expertise, roles, and responsibilities of professionals who provide service coordination to encourage consistency across our field.
What Can You Do?
Let’s break down the four recommendations in the Call to Action and consider how to move the dial forward.
#1: States and local programs should review and align current competencies to the indicators in the Knowledge and Skills for Service Coordinators (KSSC) document.
In an appendix, the KSSC outlines six knowledge and skill areas that are essential for service coordinators, including: infant and toddler development, family-centered practices, leadership and teaming, coordination of services, transition, and professionalism. Take some time to read it and compare it to guidance or competencies your program uses when hiring and training SCs. If you don’t have program-level competencies, consider adopting these.
#2: Leaders who hire, supervise, and mentor service coordinators must have a thorough understanding of the expertise and needs of these professionals. This understanding is essential to ensure that compensation aligns with the level of responsibility expected of service coordinators. Service coordinators also should have appropriate administrative support, reflective supervision, and resources to successfully manage the workload, navigate changes in policies and procedures, and, most importantly, partner with families.
This recommendation focuses on leadership and administrative support, which traditionally varies greatly across EI programs. If you are a leader, be honest with yourself and reflect on what you understand. Can you specifically explain what the SCs in your program do and what they need? If you find holes in your knowledge or how your program functions, make a plan to address them starting today. A few ideas:
- Ask your SCs what they need and how your program can meet this recommendation, then work together to set goals.
- Schedule regular meetings with service coordinators to touch base, identify needs, and collaborate toward goals.
- Provide specific info about policy changes and what they mean. Invite input and be flexible when you can.
- Check in regularly about workloads.
- Be available for regular planned and unplanned reflective supervision.
#3: States and programs must consider multiple factors when determining workload size to ensure that service coordinators can manage the roles and responsibilities outlined in this joint position statement. The factors to consider include (1) the number of families served per service coordinator, (2) the varying levels of need experienced by families, (3) the model of service coordination implemented in the state/program, (4) the need for administrative support and supervision, and (5) the level of responsibility, educational background, and any specific expertise required of service coordinators in a given state or program.
This recommendation strongly encourages programs to use a multi-factorial view when determining workloads for service coordinators, rather than simply relying on “caseload” numbers which often fail to reflect the complexity and individualized nature of the work. If you are a leader, take a hard look at how your program operates, check in with your staff, and make adjustments to make the work more manageable. If you are a service coordinator, examine your workload and talk with your supervisor about what is going well and where you need support. Bring your creative ideas to the meeting and work together to tackle this recommendation. You might not be able to change the number of referrals coming in, but there are often smaller changes that can be made to improve the situation.
#4. Additional research is needed to identify recommended practices specific to service coordination, which could be guided by the KSSC document. Research also needs to address how these practices would be implemented with families and how service coordinators would be trained to use these practices during preservice and inservice training.
This might sound like a recommendation for academics, but academics need EI programs to work with to conduct research. Reach out to your local university to initiate conversations about research and service coordination. Encourage faculty to share the position statement with their students. Building partnerships with faculty not only benefits the students you may share during field placements, but could also have a positive impact on the field if you work together to learn more about best practices.
I encourage you to take the time to read the full position statement and share it (or the Executive Summary) with at least two other people. Share it with your staff or with colleagues, other SCs, contractor agencies, leadership, families, and higher education faculty. Start thinking about how you can use it in your program or state.
Let’s answer the call for action by dedicating some intentional time and energy to our service coordinators. They deserve it.
How can you use the position statement in your program? Who will you share it with?