Waisman Center–Birth To 3 Program
for Infants and Toddler Services
With all the emphasis surrounding natural family environments as the primary learning place for infants and toddlers with disabilities, some child care experts say you should be doing more to provide supports for families.
Keeping families at the forefront when considering what kinds of services to provide to children was a major theme at this month's OSEP Leadership Conference.
"Early intervention should never separate children and families," said Bobbi Stettner-Eaton, education program specialist with OSEP. "They should be taken together as a total learning unit."
Providing family-centered services is critical, since it nurtures the natural care-giving environment, Stettner-Eaton said.
"This applies also to commercial providers and child-care institutions which can become a natural setting for infants and toddlers," she said.
The federal government is challenging states to consider providing services from a multi-agency perspective, she said. This perspective addresses natural supports, maintenance for family needs, family-friendly referral procedures and child find round up.
Conducting family assessments helps child-care institutions determine the most natural setting for a child to receive services, Stettner-Eaton said.
"All babies' natural environment is the home, but it may not be for some," she said. "We have to consider the home environment, safety issues, challenges the family has, the family dynamic. It is not automatic."
More family-based emphasis is needed on services, said Stettner-Eaton, who has participated in monitoring Part C services in several states. The monitoring revealed that:
Changes to Service Provision
No homogeneous groups exist on which to base research for effective early intervention services, said Mary Beth Bruder, director of child and family studies at the University of Connecticut.
"We see all different kinds of families - different cultures, languages, communities," she said. "We have to consider the philosophical framework of how we provide services to all various kinds of families."
Natural learning environments are places where children experience everyday, typically occurring learning opportunities - which every child needs, Bruder said.
"Children learn by being interested in things. This leads to competency and mastery," she said.
Delivering services in natural environments presents a new "philosophical framework" for early intervention, Bruder said. As a result, many states are making sweeping changes to personnel training, IFSP planning and interagency collaboration practices, she said.
"Most disciplines of training personnel are too narrow-focused, for example, on one type of disability," she said. "But team models of service delivery can be more efficient for child-care staff." More states are requiring training specifically in early intervention, she said.
Some IFSPs "look a little too much like IEPs for students," Bruder said. "They are focused almost solely on child outcomes." While outcomes are desirable, Bruder said an emphasis on what goals the child will reach is too limiting. "Families can identify many other learning opportunities for their children in natural environments," she said.
Changes: Maryland's Practices
Shifting the philosophy of delivering services in natural environments is a difficult task to undertake, but Maryland capitalized on effective interagency collaboration to meet the needs of children and their families.
Maryland offers much of its family services through local infants and toddlers programs, part of the preschool services branch of the state Department of Education's Division of Special Education. The services branch works with the state's Expanded Family Support Network to include outreach and support to families of children with disabilities ages 3-5, said Carol Ann Baglin, state director of special education.
"The focus for this is on our schools, to be sure they are ready to receive students with disabilities at a young age," she said. "We're trying to expand to look at more Early Head Start child-care centers for the state."
One of the state's biggest challenges is developing better transition services and getting children out of the center-based care smoothly, she said. The state toiled over the issue of who would become their lead agency. In 1989, it was the Department of Education, then the Department of Children, Youth and Families, then back to the Department of Education, she said.
The state's expansion efforts include Partners for Success: Resource Centers for Families and Schools, a program that establishes a continuum of family support services available to all families of children with disabilities from birth through age 21, Baglin said.
The local FSN is coordinated by an experienced parent of a child with a disability, said Mona Freedman, who is one of those coordinators.
"This expanded family support services network puts some control back into the lifestyles of families, to choose natural environments for their child and to be more of a part of the decision-making surrounding their child's needs," she said. "We can now get to families right at the beginning of their child's life."
Mona Freedman at 410-767-0652 or Nancy Vorobey,
early childhood special education specialist, at 410-767-0234.
Reprinted with permission from Early Childhood Report. Copyright 1999 by LRP Publications, 747 Dresher Road, P.O. Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. All rights reserved. For more information on products published by LRP Publications, please call 800-341-7874, ext. 275.