IFSP Development, Practical Strategies, Service Coordination

Parents Should NEVER Be Asked To Sign an Incomplete IFSP…Ever

Let me say it again…parents should never ever sign an incomplete IFSP. Or a blank prior notice form. Or a blank or incomplete anything.

There are so many reasons why this is not a good idea…here are 5 of them.

1. The IFSP is a Contract

First and foremost, the IFSP is a contract between the early intervention program and the parent. Signing the IFSP means that the parent consents to what is written into the plan, including the outcomes and services that they and their child will receive. Asking a parent to sign an incomplete or blank IFSP is inappropriate because he/she cannot consent to what is not included on the form. It is also a violation of family rights and safeguards.

2. Families Should Not Be Pressured

Families might feel vulnerable at the time of the initial IFSP development, having just found out that their child has a delay. They may be eager to get services started. They may agree to sign an incomplete form because someone they perceive to be in authority has requested this. Perhaps that person said that services will start sooner if the parent just goes ahead and signs the incomplete IFSP form. Waiting to sign the form when it is complete might require another visit by the service coordinator and perhaps that visit won’t occur for a few days. This pressure should not be part of the IFSP process. If the IFSP is incomplete and another visit is needed, then the service coordinator should present that as just part of the process and do his/her best to visit the family again as soon as possible to avoid any delay.

3. The 45-day Timeline is Our Responsibility

Delaying the signature does affect the 45-day timeline requirement, but this is our problem to ensure that this timeline is met, not the parent’s. The team should plan ahead when scheduling the assessment and IFSP meetings with time to spare to so that if an additional visit is needed to obtain the parent’s signature, this can be achieved in a timely and honorable manner.

4. Liability – It’s Not Worth the Risk

If a family signs an incomplete form then questions their services through a formalized complaint process, your program will be found out-of-compliance. This is a very serious issue and affects local and state-level compliance with federal requirements.

5. Don’t Miss an Empowerment Opportunity!

Ensuring that families have the time to read what they sign, ask questions and make informed decisions must be priorities for service coordinators. For many families in early intervention, their journey is just beginning in the special education system. Helping families understand the importance of being informed about what they are signing is an empowerment skill that can be very useful in the future when they need to sign family rights forms and IEPs in the school system.

My 4 Challenges to You

  1. Talk to families about what they’re signing. Don’t minimize it or breeze over forms assuming that families understand or that they don’t care what the form means. Explain each form and pause to give families time to read what they are signing. Ask if they have questions.
  2. If you see a colleague asking a family to sign a blank form, step in. Ask how you can help so that the form can be completed. Talk to your colleague after the visit. Share this post with him/her.
  3. If you are a supervisor, check in with your staff. Ensure that they know that families should never sign a blank form. Ever.
  4. If you see yourself in this post, today is a new day. Make a commitment that you will never again ask a family to sign an incomplete form.

What are your thoughts about this topic? How do you handle it when a parent says that she is fine signing an incomplete form just to get it done sooner?


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2 Comments to “Parents Should NEVER Be Asked To Sign an Incomplete IFSP…Ever”

  1. I agree completly about families understanding the plan and only signing when they concur with it.

    In the interest of stimulating discussion, understanding and how Part C operates I want bring up a concern about thinking of the IFSP as a contract. I don’t view it as a contract as it does not meet the standard definition of a contract in a legal sense.

    When it is viewed as a contract it puts it into the legal realm which unnecessarily can lead to a confrontational stance between providers and families.

    I view it as a collaborative agreement between the agency and the family.It concerns me when I hear that families and providers think families are owed X number of visits or we work hard to make up every missed service even doubling up visits. This appears to me to reinforce the view that we are the ones that make changes for the child and not the family. This does not seem to fit the family centered practice we strive for whereby families get the support they need and it changes over time and they are the ones enhancing their child’s development.

    In our work to truly support our mission we need to look closely at our practices and the language we use to explain what we are doing in early intervention. The more congruent we are in melding mission, values and practice the more consistent our message will be.

    Any thoughts are welcome

    • Thanks for getting this discussion started, Allan! You make some great points. I think we’ve thought of the IFSP as a contract because, as you know, what is written there is not guidance or a suggestion but a plan that the family has the right to have implemented. I like your idea of a collaborative agreement because collaboration really is the key. How we explain that collaboration and the whole EI process is so important when setting up the partnership with the family and with helping them learn their central role in the process. I think there is alot we can do from the very first contact to try to build that partnership and hopefully avoid any adversarial situations, and sometimes, as you suggest, it can come down to the words we use to explain what we do. Thanks again for offering another point of view!

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