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Service Coordinators: Speak Up and Share Your Value!

Alice (service coordinator) joins Jodie (therapist) on an intervention visit to see Max and his mother. When they walk into the home, Jodie reminds Max’s mother that Alice is here and says, “She’s just here to do the paperwork.” Alice keeps the smile on her face as she greets the family, but inside is cringing and thinking, “Wait, did she really just say that?!”

Ever Been in Alice’s Shoes?

Ever had a moment like this during a visit? Maybe a colleague described your job in a less-than-professional light? Or a parent introduced you to someone else in a way that left you feeling like he or she really didn’t understand what you do? Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence for many service coordinators when their team members struggle to understand their role or the importance of service coordination.

Understanding the Service Coordinator’s Role

Service coordinators are valuable team members who lead early intervention (EI) teams. They bring unique expertise to the team that is often misunderstood. It is easier to recognize how a physical therapist brings expertise about motor development or how a speech-language pathologist brings expertise in communication. We tell families all the time that they bring expertise about their child, their daily routines, and how their family works. Because the role of service coordinator is unique to EI, it can be less obvious what that role brings. Other team members may see the service coordinator as primarily a “paper-pusher” responsible for documentation and getting forms signed. (In fact, many service coordinators have reported this.) Or, perhaps, families may see the service coordinator as the voice on the phone who calls each month to ask how things are going. If that is all they see or hear, then you can undersatnd how it can be hard to really understand the role of a service coordinator and the value in this work. Because the service coordinator role is less familiar, it’s really important for program supervisors, and service coordinators themselves, to help others understand what they do.

Tips for Helping Others Understand the Value of Your Role

Make Sure YOU Know Your Own Value – If you are a service coordinator, make sure you can articulate what you bring to the team. Write it down. Come up with a phrase you can use when faced with situations like the one described above. Embrace your role and its importance. What you think about yourself will shine through, especially when you first meet parents and other team members. Here’s how Alice explained her role when she first met Max’s family:

Example: I’m your service coordinator, which means I am the person who will guide you through the early intervention process. I’m also a resource for you when you want to learn about what’s available in the community to help you and your child. I make sure that your EI services are addressing what’s important to you. I’ll check in regularly to see how things are going and I’m here for you to ask questions anytime.

If you’re the supervisor, make sure you can explain the roles of all of your staff and that you educate new staff, contractors, and community partners so they understand the value of all team members.

Explain Your Role Using the Three Family Outcomes – I heard this tip on a service coordination webinar and it’s a great one. Describe your role to families and others in terms of the three Office of Special Education (OSEP) family outcomes, which include helping families: 1) know their rights; 2) effectively communicate their child’s needs; and 3) help their child develop and learn. Here’s another example of how Alice could explain her role using the family outcomes:

Example: It’s my job to make sure you are aware of your rights as a parent involved in our program. I am also here to help you communicate with the rest of the team anything you want to share, including what you think your child and family need, what’s important to you, and what you would like to accomplish by being in our program. We will work together, with other members of your EI team, to make sure you are learning ways to encourage your child’s development throughout the day.

Speak Up and Share Your Value – Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your value. Try not to take it personally when someone incorrectly explains what you do; most likely, the jab was unintentional. If you find yourself in Alice’s shoes, speak up! Use a friendly, professional tone of voice and remind the provider and family of what you do. When you speak up, you educate everyone present, which can be a wonderful thing. Here’s what Alice could say in this situation:

Example: Yes, we do have some paperwork to do but I’m here for more than that. I’m looking forward to seeing how Max is doing with learning to sit up on his own. I also love seeing how physical therapy is going and talking with you both about any updates or changes needed to Max’s IFSP. I’m responsible for making sure that EI services are working for your family and that you are getting what you and Max need. If there are any questions, I’m here to help with that too.

Show Your Value – This is an important one. Demonstrate the value you bring to the team, to the visit, and to any interactions with the family and other team members. Be fully present when joining visits. Get involved, share ideas, make observations, and offer feedback. This always needs to be balanced with avoiding “taking over” or disrupting the visit, but you have valuable insight to share. You know about child development too. You are an expert in the EI process. You demonstrate your value when you actively participate, guide the EI team, and do what you say you will do, meaning that you follow through on your commitments. What you do, as well as what you say, shapes what others know about your work!

How do you share and show your value as a service coordinator?

How would you handle the situation described above? What would you do or say to help your team members understand your role?

Share you insights in the comments below!

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Check out these two videos about the importance of service coordination:

How Service Coordinators Support Service Providers

The Importance of Service Coordination

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