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DEC Recommended Practices: Family (Part 1)

Wyatt was just referred to early intervention (EI) and his parents are unsure about what to expect. EI is a new system for them, one full of acronyms, paperwork, and professionals. They are eager to get services in place but are feeling overwhelmed by the process and Wyatt’s new diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Their service coordinator, Phoebe, met the family at the intake and is working with them to schedule the assessment. She wants to support them in a way that is respectful and responsive to what they need while helping them feel comfortable and informed.

Using the Family RPs to Guide Our Work

When you read the Family component of the DEC Recommended Practices, you’ll find that they discuss three themes that are important to EI: family-centered practices, family capacity-building practices, and family and professional collaboration. Our work should always be family-centered because infants and toddlers develop within the context of their families. The lens through which we provide support should always focus on family capacity-building. If we are doing our jobs right, parents’ knowledge and skills expand and their abilities to facilitate their children’s development, access resources, and get their needs met are strengthened. How this happens is through a collaborative partnership with the family, where we are equal team members, working together to develop and implement the IFSP to help them achieve their goals for the child.

In our example, Phoebe can use these guiding themes and the specific RPs to reflect on the support she provides. Let’s look at the first five family RPs and see how Phoebe has implemented them.

DEC Recommended Practices: Family

F1. Practitioners build trusting and respectful partnerships with the family through interactions that are sensitive and responsive to cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity.

This began for Phoebe when she first contacted Wyatt’s family to schedule the intake. She scheduled the intake early in the morning, when both parents could be home, as Wyatt’s mother works the afternoon shift at a local nursing home. She took time to get to know the family and explained the importance of a trusting partnership between the family and other team members.

F2. Practitioners provide the family with up-to-date, comprehensive and unbiased information in a way that the family can understand and use to make informed choices and decisions.

Phoebe explained the EI process, family rights and safeguards, and family cost share so that Wyatt’s parents could make informed decisions about next steps. She took her time and offered the family opportunities to ask questions. She applied this information to their specific situation, encouraging them to help decide who would attend the assessment, when it would be scheduled, and what information they would like to share with the rest of the team.

F3. Practitioners are responsive to the family’s concerns, priorities, and changing life circumstances.

Phoebe asked open-ended questions to determine what the family wanted to see happen as a result of their participation in EI. She asked about their daily routines, their interests, their concerns, and what went well and what was challenging related to Wyatt’s development. She was careful not to make assumptions about what Wyatt or the family would need, based on his diagnosis. After their discussion, Phoebe asked for the family’s permission to include this information in Wyatt’s IFSP and share it with the rest of the team so that they could use it when developing outcomes and goals.  

F4. Practitioners and the family work together to create outcomes or goals, develop individualized plans, and implement practices that address the family’s priorities and concerns and the child’s strengths and needs.

During the assessment and IFSP meeting, Phoebe helped Wyatt’s parents share what they told her during the intake and provide updates. She frequently turned to them first for their input into Wyatt’s outcomes and goals and what types of services they felt they needed. Phoebe helped everyone on the IFSP team keep the family’s priorities, interests, routines, and goals in mind as they developed outcomes and determined services. She used her leadership skills to guide a family-centered process.

F5. Practitioners support family functioning, promote family confidence and competence, and strengthen family-child relationships by acting in ways that recognize and build on family strengths and capacities.

After the IFSP was developed and services were in place, Phoebe regularly checked in with the family and the physical therapist to make sure that intervention focused on building the family’s capacity to facilitate Wyatt’s development. She shared her excitement about Wyatt’s progress, often complimenting his parents on their successes with weaving intervention strategies into Wyatt’s daily routine. She checked in often to find out how the family was feeling about Wyatt’s progress and their services and to see if any new issues has arisen that might affect family functioning. She was attentive and responsive when the family or the physical therapist expressed a concern and pulled the team together to meet whenever needed.

Whether you are a service coordinator like Phoebe, or a direct service provider, you can use the Family RPs to reflect on the quality of the support you provide. Take a moment and check out these Family Checklists, which are one-page tools you can easily use as you think about what you do everyday:

Family-Centered Practices Checklist

Informed Family Decision-Making Practices Checklist

Family Engagement Practices Checklist

Family Capacity-Building Practices Checklist

Next month, we’ll see how Phoebe applies the last five family practices in her work. In the meantime, take a few minutes and think about your day. Click on one of the checklists and take 60 seconds to reflect on what you do and what you could do even better!

How have you applied these practices today? 

Pick one checklist and forward the link to a colleague today. How else could you use these checklists to improve your practices or those of your staff?

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Be sure to check out these other posts on applying the DEC RPs to early intervention:

DEC Recommended Practices: Leadership in EI

DEC Recommended Practices: Assessment (Part 1)

DEC Recommended Practices: Assessment (Part 2)

DEC Recommended Practices: Environment

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