Engaging Families, Intervention Visits, Bridging the Gap, Practical Strategies

Helping Families Bridge the Gap between Your Visit & the Rest of the Week

People Building Bridge

We know that, in early intervention, collaboration between the parent and the service provider is critical for successful intervention. For years, early intervention practitioners have espoused a use of family-centered practices, which means that we partner with families, respect and encourage their decision-making, support their active participation, and focus on the child’s development within the context of the family.

What is less clear is how we do these things. There has been a call in the early intervention literature for more clearly defined practices that help early intervention service providers know exactly what to do with a child and family to ensure that the family feels both confident and competent using intervention strategies when the service provider is not present.

As a field, there is a need to define and describe the effective practices we use so that all providers have the tools they need to help children and families meet their goals. Many of the strategies we do have focus on the work of the early interventionist during the visit with the child. We need strategies to help us focus on what the family does when we are not in the home or other natural environment. Strategies such as these would give EI practitioners guidance in how to work with families during visits in ways that help families know what to do with their children during family activities that happen between visits.

To begin this discussion, here are 5 strategies that may help you help families bridge the gap between the visit and the rich activities and experiences that occur during the rest of the week:

  • Ask families specific questions about their routines to find out what goes well and where the struggles are. Find out how the routine works for this particular family, what happens before, during, and after the routine, and how the parent thinks the routine could be improved or changed to address the goal in mind.
  • Think of visits as practice sessions for parents during which they get to try out strategies with their children with your support and feedback.
  • Shape the visit to meet a specific need. Identify the need or goal through discussion with the family, observation of the routine, and by joining the routine when you can to practice strategies and address development in real time.
  • Talk with the parent after the intervention activity to find out his/her impressions, what he/she thinks went well, and which strategy he/she thinks can be used during the week.
  • Develop a brief but detailed plan with the parent for how the family will try to implement a strategy or two during the week. Individualize the plan to fit an agreed-upon family activity or routine. Write it down. Always follow-up on the plan at the beginning of your next visit.

Now consider the following questions:

What other strategies do YOU use to bridge this gap?

How might you implement one of the strategies above?

What challenges have you faced with focusing on family routines during intervention visits?

Share you insights, strategies, questions, and challenges below. Let’s learn from each other and use this opportunity to build stronger practices in Virginia!

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12 Comments to “Helping Families Bridge the Gap between Your Visit & the Rest of the Week”

  1. I think the critical point is to think about what the family will do “between sessions.” This does not mean giving the family “homework” (b/c if they don’t do it, do they….FAIL? What?) It really means thinking about talking with them about what they tried on the visit, what they want to try between visits, and what questions the provider can answer to support the caregiver.

    • I completely agree! I think the word “homework” should be banned from EI lingo! 🙂 For many people it can have such a negative association. I hope that, if we really are focusing on the activities and routines that happen between visits, then the interactions that the parents have with their children when they are using intervention strategies will feel less like homework and more like adding tools to their parenting toolbox.

  2. I think about this a lot, and wonder if one way of thinking about this flxibility is to reflect back on your interventions with a particular family — caregivers, parents, child…. and pay attention to your role — how are you explaining your work and the intent of EI, are you as flexibile as you would like? Is your support for this family pretty similar to your work with other children and families? If it is, then perhaps that’s an area for you to consider making some changes.

    • Great suggestion! I’ve found in the EI literature how much of the work done in EI is very similar across families. When we are really working within the context of family routines, intervention becomes much more individualized and each visit looks different. Similar strategies might be used, but they’ll look different for different families. Reflecting on work with individual families is a great strategy to reflect on your own practice!

  3. I agree that the strategy of talking with the family after the visit to get their input about what they want to try is important. I also think the strategy of observing a routine that a family has identified as being challenging for them and joining the routine when you can to practice strategies and address development in real time is a key practice that will support the family to use the strategies between visits.

    • Yes, the idea of checking in regularly with families during and at the end of the visit is so important to making sure that intervention FITS what families do and want to do. The feedback loop, back and forth, between the parent and provider helps us know that intervention is meaningful and useful to families.

  4. This has made me think about the SpecialQuest Continuous Quality Improvement process. At the end of each training segment (or day), the facilitator asks the participants to reflect on the experience. What worked (that should be continued next time)and what would we like to change for next time. The process is informal, and always proides valuable feedback and direction. It provides a way to retool, adjust, and make changes so that the process works for everyone. Can you try that after a visit

  5. I find challenges in working with families who have multiple challenges including finances, family dynamics, and depression. It is challenging to address the multiplicity of issues. AT times I find the issue is that the family are finding it difficult to actually HAVE routines.
    Supporting the family then feels like a lot of listening–and being patient when I would like to see things happen according to my vision and timetable.
    Thanks for great blog!

    • Yes, Colleen, supporting families with lots of needs can definately be challenging but also so rewarding. It’s hard sometimes to balance our vision of what we’d like to see happening and what is actually happening. Sometimes I think it’s all about baby steps – helping the family make small changes as they are ready. Even small changes can make a big difference. Taking the time to listen, build rapport and develop understanding goes a long way too to helping families bridge the gap!

  6. Colleen,

    Thanks for your post. I used to find that those kinds of situations also brought out the “fixer” in me more than anything else. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to be patient, listen, and observe — rather than offering 10 solutions to fix the family’s problems. I agree with Dana that it’s often that focus on one or two small changes — that can help everyone feel like you’re headed in the right direction.

  7. I hurt my back and am having PT. I went yesterday and he asked me to fill out this little form. One of the questions was about functional changes I had seen since the last visit. I mentioned that I had been able to sleep some wthout waking up with pain. He asked if that had been a problem, I said yes, and then we worked on some strategies that would help me some more. I slept great last night. I’ve been thinking about that proess all morning. The area of intervention was driven by my identified area of concern. He asked me to demonstrate how I sleep, and gave me three strategies to try. He also told me why they were important. When I tried them out last night, I had to make some modifications but, having the knowledge about why he wanted me to do them, I was able to make it work.

    The collaboration between his expertise and problem-solving skills and my priorities for change is powerful. And sustaining.

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