Practical Strategies, Recent Articles, Service Coordination

Is That Even In My Job Description?

I graduated in May 2013 from JMU with my Master’s degree in Inclusive Early Childhood Education. From the moment I stepped off stage aftershutterstock_87949297 receiving my diploma I knew that I was destined to work in early intervention. I knew that I was ready to get my own caseload full of children and families who could use my support and expertise. I knew that every day I would make an impact on someone and go home feeling like I was on top of the world because I had made a difference. I knew what early intervention was all about and what I would be doing as a service coordinator (as soon as I had a job). In all reality, I was not prepared for some of the tasks and situations I have faced or the questions I have been asked as a service coordinator. Below are some things that would have been helpful to know before entering the EI field.

It Would Have Been Helpful To Know…

It’s okay to say no.

During my first few weeks, I began working with a family that consisted of a single mother with four children. Upon walking in the family’s home for my very first visit, the mom’s first words to me were: “So you’re gonna be the one to take me to get groceries and dress my kids and take care of all that other stuff that kids need, right?” My first thought was “Are you asking me to raise your children?!” But, being so new to the job and wanting to make a difference my response was “I can try to help you with everything that you need.” I quickly learned that trying to help ‘raise’ 45 kids (average caseload at my program) and their siblings is not feasible nor is it in my job description. I now know how to nicely say ‘no’ and I no longer feel bad afterwards.

Community resources are plentiful!

Many of the questions I get asked can all be answered by community resources. Over the past few months, I have been asked questions such as “I can’t pay my electric bill, what do I do”, “our food stamps have run out and we have no food, can you help”, or “how do I get a handicapped parking permit”. Fresh out of college, I would not have been able to answer any of these questions. Luckily, there will generally be community resources that you can use to address any of these questions. I have started my own list of community resources that I can refer to when a family asks me a question, and I have even given this list to families to empower them in meeting their own needs. Having a list of community resources can be a true lifesaver and a way to avoid a lot of stress!

There is no ‘typical’ home visit.

I have been going on home visits for almost 5 months now, and I can say with all honesty that I have never had a visit go as planned. Working with families means planning for the unexpected and being able to adapt to each situation (trust me, you’ll never be in the same situation twice). I have experienced food fights, total meltdowns (both from families and kiddos), snotty kisses, and hugs. I walked in to homes with children who have the climbing abilities of chimpanzees and the ‘flying’ abilities of eagles (needless to say I got a workout on those visits). There is no typical visit and I have learned that it is completely okay.

Every day is a new experience when you work in early intervention, especially as a service coordinator. I am constantly learning new things with each child and family I work with, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

What is surprising about your job? What do you wish you had known before you began working in early intervention?

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Casey LearyCasey Leary attended James Madison University where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies with a minor in Inclusive Early Childhood Education in the Spring of 2012. She then became a ‘Double Duke’ earning her Masters degree in the Spring of 2013. Casey now works as a Service Coordinator/Developmental Services Provider for the Infant & Toddler Connection of Harrisonburg/Rockingham. Casey can be reached at: cleary@hrcsb.org.

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8 Comments to “Is That Even In My Job Description?”

  1. I have read your article entirely. I believe you mean well in your journey. I also believe you think you love working with families of children with special needs. However, your ability to narrate this article is offensive. You place the joy upon your employment and seem bothered by your actual duties. First, you mention families asking you to raise their children. Additionally you mention community reseourses, as if these same families are looking for free handouts. Lastly, you compared special needs children to animals; climbing and flying around as you, like some hero, saves them while getting a real “workout.”

    I understand you wrote this article in order to help those professionals who wish to work in your field. The humor is somewhat offensive; yet, I do not think it was intentional. I agree preparing yourself with resources and firm limitations are necessary. Yet, these lessons are earned in an introductory level; whereas you mention you hold a masters degree.

    Please write well. Proof read your work and ask yourself “who am I addressing”? If the answer is the future face if early childhood education watch what you say. Is the message here you love your job? Is the message here for you to love your job you must accept the families of children with special needs?

    • I’m sorry that some of the language in this post offended you but I agree that that was definitely not intended. Casey’s perspective was an honest one from a new service provider. When you are new to this field, it can feel overwhelming and you do have to learn when to say “no” and how to build professional boundaries with families. Sometimes we are asked to do much more than what is part of our job, which I think is what Casey was trying to address. When an interventionist is new, it can be very easy to help too much, which is not good for the family and not aligned with best practices that indicate that providing support that helps families meet their own needs is most effective. Helping families access community resources is also a key part of early intervention and is one of the aspects of the program that families say they benefit most from. Appreciating that each visit is unique is also important for any early interventionist. There are times when visits are exciting and other times when they are exhausting (or both); this is a reality of the job and something that is really only learned on the job, whether the provider has a graduate degree or not.

      We appreciate your candid feedback just as we appreciate Casey candidly sharing her experiences. This post was intended to start a discussion about the experiences of providers who are new to the field. As with all posts on our blog, we are hoping to share perspectives and strategies in a professional manner. We welcome feedback about our content, so thanks for taking the time to add to the discussion.

  2. I agree with all of those things that you “learn on the job!” – definitly true. I have only been in EI for 6 years but I will say that it’s a continuous learning process, and for me, nothing is more rewarding than building up my own knowledge of community resources on things such as handicapped permits, local food banks, etc that I can pass along to families as they ask now 🙂

    And in reference to the first comment – honestally, in my experience it’s typically the older siblings (without special needs in most cases) that are flying like eagles and climb like chimpanzees! 🙂

  3. As someone who supports students who hope to enter the field of EI or ECSE, it is invaluable to hear perspectives from new service providers. This assists current students in seeing the bridge between what they learn in their coursework and field placement with the realities of being a newbie in the field. No classroom can replicate the realities of “real life” as an early interventionist.

    • Thanks, Cori. I agree that there is nothing at all like being in the natural environment for learning how to provide early intervention. I remember another thing that one of my early families taught me as a new grad…how to confidently say “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” At first it was hard to say because I thought I should know the answers to all of their questions, but I found that the family appreciated my honesty. I did do the research and came back with the best answer I had – or we worked together to find it. I think that when students know things like that, they are set up to be more successful when they enter the field.

      • Very true! Being an self-admitted “perfectionist” it was VERY hard for me at the beginning to say “I don’t know” when the families would ask questions (and of course this still happens when I don’t know the answer…) I also think that it’s important to then make sure, like you said Dana, that you DO follow-up with the information – very important in building that trust and the relationship with the family. And follow-up in a timely manner too 🙂

  4. I must say I was puzzled by the response to “Is that even in my job description.” I commend Casey for sharing her excitement and passion for EI and articulating a few of the many and varied questions that do come up from families when providers enter their homes.

    I think that we all as professionals in this field must keep the basic tenet of family centered services which is listen attentively to what is being said and not read into or infer with judgement.

    Allan

    • Thanks for your support, Allan. I agree that Casey did a nice job of sharing some of the realities new interventionists experience. You couldn’t be more right about the importance of reserving judgement – with families and with colleagues, whether they are new to the field or more seasoned.

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