Practical Strategies, Service Coordination, Teamwork

Weathering the Storm: How Service Coordinators Manage Difficult Situations

TornadoEarly interventionists know service coordinators wear several hats. We are advocators, coordinators, problem solvers, and mediators.   Service coordinators are leaders in the IFSP process and active listeners to parents and providers.   We have to be creative and sometimes think outside the box to help children reach their greatest potential.

Service coordination has many rewards and challenges.  A few of the rewards we encounter include empowering our families and watching them advocate for themselves. It is also rewarding connecting families to resources and watching those resources enhance the life of the family.   Along with the rewards also come conflicts.  We deal with conflicts and manage difficult situations while keeping the process family focused.  When team members (including the family) disagree the potential for conflict arises. A service coordinator handles these situations keeping the perspective on the priorities of the family and facilitating decisions that are in the best interest of the child and family.

So how do we begin to manage difficult situations?

Discuss with the family any changes within the family routine or family priorities that would impact service provisions.  Asking about changes that may be taking place can open up a new line of communication with a family.  When a family is able to discuss changes whether positive or negative it empowers the family to make decisions about services that would be beneficial to the child as well as the family.  This form of communication will assist in determining if services need to be reviewed, if outcomes need to be updated or changed, or if other supports and services need to be put in place.

Make sure you understand what the issue or concern really is.  Talk with the parent or the provider one on one to clarify issues and concerns. This conversation should be concrete, direct (in a professional manner) and clear.   Prior to IFSP meetings have a detailed conversation with the parent and provider to ensure that you are prepared going into the IFSP meeting in case there are situations that need to be addressed.

MeetingDiscuss ways to handle issues as a team.   Help the provider or family member figure out ways to deal with the situation so that everyone is comfortable with the outcomes. In most cases helping the family and/or provider figure out how to solve the issue themselves will not only give them skills to handle situations in the future but also empower them to speak out. A service coordinator’s job is to help facilitate the discussion in an honest and direct manner and model the ways to come to a resolution.

In cases where there are disagreements among team members and a decision is unable to be reached, it is alright to end an IFSP meeting,  take a break and reschedule the IFSP meeting for another day.  This will give a chance for all team members to step back, think about everything that has been said and come back together calmly to make a decision.  This will also give the service coordinator a chance to discuss the situation with all team members separately and revisit the facts.

Consider the following questions: 

What strategies do you use when facing conflicts?

How might you implement one of the above strategies when faced with a conflict or difficult situation?

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25 Comments to “Weathering the Storm: How Service Coordinators Manage Difficult Situations”

  1. You know, I agree that a direct, professional approach seems to be the most effective. When SCs clarify, restate the problem and then coach families and team members to resolve the conflict, the SCs is teaching skills that can be used throughout the life span.

  2. What strategies do you use when facing conflicts?
    How might you implement one of the above strategies when faced with a conflict or difficult situation?

    When facing conflicts in group settings, I think the best thing to do is to evaluate each different side’s opinions as a group and come to a consensus and agreement on what the best decision is based on the array of choices. Moreover, I think different sides to an argument can get confused as to how each group is thinking which is why many disagreements and conflicts arise. Furthermore, I think it is important to get each individual’s opinion as well as why and how they came to certain conclusions. Finally, if I were a service provider, I think I would implement the “make sure you understand what the issue or concern really is” strategy because I believe a lot of communication can distort how families portray what they really want or need. In conclusion, I would implement this strategy in a difficult situation by remembering to clarify what I think the family is trying to portray with what they are actually saying to me.

  3. I am taking a course called Introduction to Early Childhood Intervention. If I was a service provider and was faced with conflict I would first calm down and try to understand every part of the conflict. Then I would look up solutions or resources and come up with plans that I can talk about with the family. I would mention the pros and cons of the plan. I really do like the strategy of handling the situation with the family. It is really important that they are able to solve issues and be able to speak out. This will help them when you are not present and as a service provider, it’s important to help the family and children become independent.

    • Thanks Sania. You got it! The importance of fostering the family’s independence with problem-solving and getting their children’s needs met without us is a key goal of ECI!

  4. Hello. I am also taking an Early Childhood Intervention class. If I were a service provider, I would truly need to listen and understand the different perspectives others may have. Most importantly, we must listen to the family and their concerns. Our primary focus is the child, and what the family needs/wants. As well, it is difficult sometimes as individual may hear what others believe in doing instead of actually listening. Second, I would like to hear the input others may have on how to deal with the conflict/situation at hand. A diverse group of people can bring about even better solutions than we can expect. As the service provider, it is important to facilitate honest and open communication between the team and family. Ultimately, resolving the issue and finding the best solution is the wanted outcome.

    • Great suggestion to hear the input of other team members. Sometimes it can be hard to reach out to others when struggling with a difficult situation but that’s exactly when team support can be so beneficial!

  5. When faced with challenges, I always try to obtain the viewpoints of all members and try to keep a unbiased and outsider perspective to help resolve the situation. Putting in one’s bias or opinions can always hinder the process of finding a resolution. I would try to discuss other options with the family, so that they understand there are other choices that can be made and discuss the benefits or consequences of each choice. When faced with a difficult conflict, I think a really good strategy to implement from above would be make sure you understand what the concern really is because if you don’t understand the family’s concern, it could lead to a much longer process and more frustration on both parties when trying to find a compromise. By discussing the issue in the beginning, it will make it easier on the family and the service coordinator to find a solution.

    • Yes, trying your best to remain objective and listen to all points of view is so important. Repeating back what you think you heard or what you understand the problem to be is a great place to begin!

  6. If I were in a conflict as a service coordinator, I would first get into a calm state. It is very easy for any human being to become very frustrated and distressed while in a conflict or while trying to solve a difficult problem. Because service coordinators work with all kinds of families and children everyday, it is important to have a confident and calm attitude because the family and child feed off your aura. If they see someone who is frustrated and distressed, the family is also likely to get frustrated because they see the person who is helping them as that. Having a calm demeanor and being confident that you are going to be able to solve the problem is the first step of solving any conflict. With this confidence, you can go into the conflict feeling more positive that you will be able to solve it with the help of the support you need.

  7. If I was a service provider, I would first try to listen to the parent to let them know they are still valued as a member of the team despite disagreements and conflicts. I believe effective communication is very important to enhance team functioning and further progress. In order to achieve this, I would try to hear the opinions of both sides. I also think it is important to not steer away from the main focus of the meeting(making a plan that is best for the child and the family) and still respect each other in any conversations. After listening to the parent, I would acknowledge their good intentions and goals. Then, I would give them other suggestions, while not necessarily trying to convince them or correct them.

    • You’ve done a great job of describing the role that service coordinators play during team meetings. Providing information while remaining objective, respectfully hearing all team members’ input, listening to the parent, keeping the meeting in focus and on track – these are such important jobs of the team leader!

  8. When I am facing conflict, I always listen to the other person’s perspective and then respond when I have an understanding of what they are trying to communicate. It is very easy to tune out the individual you are supposed to be listening to and, rather, distracting yourself while thinking of your own response. This completely defeats the purpose of having the conversation to resolve the situation in the first place. This is why I really appreciated the strategy that placed emphasis on having an understanding of the issue/concern. By having that, you are able to respond appropriately and provide assistance or resources that will genuinely help the family overcome or better understand the issue. There is nothing more frustrating than having a serious conversation with someone, listening to their response, and realizing they have no clue as to what is going on. I can see this being even more sensitive when it comes to discussions regarding the welfare of the child during teem meetings. It is always important to provide your undivided attention during times of conflict and then work together to come to a solution.

  9. As a service coordinator, when coming across a conflict of ideas, I have to first recognize that the families’ concerns or disagreements are valid. It would be unfair if I disregarded their reasons of being unsatisfied with the IFSP or with my performance. After recognizing that they have a concern, I would paraphrase what they had told me just to make sure that I understood how they feel. I want to make sure that I am on the right page with them. I then will take what I have understood an show what they are dealing with potentially from a different perspective. Keep in mind, while I am doing this, I have to avoid bias, personal opinions, and remain professional even when the conversation becomes difficult. I may even see family members starting arguments with me or with each other. If that is the case, then I redirect them to understanding the main reason why we are here talking. I would remind them that their goal is their child’s success. By nature, the early childhood intervention and IFSP process can be quite stressful. As a result, this stress can lead to conflicts within the family. Therefore, if conflict becomes a constant element within the family, I may suggest applying a support system or even a referral to family counselor to help them work things out.

  10. If I were a service provider, I would first and foremost create an environment where we can have healthy discussion even with disagreement. Ultimately, the reason tensions are running high is because everyone cares deeply. With that as a jumping off point it may be easier to realize we all have the same goal and that together we can formulate a plan that will work best for the child together. Getting multiple perspectives from both family members and other ECI members makes sure that all perspectives are being accounted for and that the more cooperation there is the better off the child will be. However, if a situation does ever get to intense I would reschedule it for another day so everyone could calm down and think about what the true purpose of the meeting is.

    • That’s a good point about everyone caring deeply. How we feel about a situation certainly drives how we interact in it. Taking a breather and acknowledging commonalities are great strategies.

  11. If I were a service provider, I would try my best to handle conflict in a way that is not harmful to any relationships. I believe that miscommunication is the cause conflict a majority of the time. Therefore, talking about the issue upfront is one way to help resolve the conflict. It is important to not keep any disagreements under the rug and to instead be open about any concerns. In addition, it is important to be mindful of the other person and their thoughts and feelings. Being conscious of this will help to resolve any disagreements.

  12. If I were a service provider faced with a conflict, I think I would try to get the perspective of each team member and family member and speak to them individually, if needed, to resolve the conflict. Because we are all human, emotions can get in the way when we try to resolve conflicts and we might not able to express our true thoughts or feelings so I think it’s important to step away from the situation and listen to everyone’s perspective. If I were a service provider and were to use any of the above strategies to resolve a conflict, I think I would try to listen and understand what the issue or concern really is. It can be difficult when you don’t know the cause of an issue and two people might think they know why the other is upset but no one will really be sure if there is no communication. Therefore, I think it’s really important to hear what a family’s true concern might be or what a service provider’s concern might be so that everyone can work together to solve the real issue and work to make the child and the family’s experience go smoothly.

  13. The strategies I would use as a service coordinator when facing a conflict first and foremost would be to keep the main goal and the purpose of the IFSP team very present. In knowing what we, as a team, are working towards, I believe we are better able to understand why disagreements arise. I say “we” because the child’s and family’s success is not based on one profession or any one individual. It is an interrelated system in which each individual brings a very critical piece of information or skills-based approach to the IFSP team and IFSP outcomes. So, if I were a service provider when faced with a conflict or difficult situation, I would make sure to discuss ways to handle issues as a team because it’s an opportunity to understand how the concerns of each team member has the potential to affect the child’s and family’s outcome, whether positive or negative.

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