Children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part of IDEA is early intervention (EI), which is a program that each state administers to guarantee children a FAPE. If your child has not yet reached his third birthday and he qualifies for EI services, he will have an individualized family service plan (IFSP).
What’s an IFSP?
The IFSP is a written treatment plan that maps out the EI services your child will receive, as well as how and when these services will be administered. It details your child’s current levels of functioning, specific needs and goals for treatment (referred to as outcomes).
The IFSP takes a family-based approach to services, due to the central concept that supporting a child’s family lends itself to supporting the child. This means that the IFSP is developed with input from the child’s entire family, and it includes features that are designed to support the entire family.
Although IDEA is a federal law, each state implements its own EI programs. Specific regulations and procedures vary from state to state; the required time frames for implementing the IFSP can differ, for example. Check with the your state education agency for more information on state-specific procedures regarding the IFSP.
Who Develops the IFSP?
Once your child is deemed eligible for services under your state’s EI criteria, an IFSP team will meet to develop the treatment plan. The compositions of IFSP teams vary, depending on the child’s specific needs. For example, the team might include a psychiatrist, neurologist, occupational therapist (OT), physical therapist (PT), speech-language pathologist (SLP) or other professionals.
You and other family members are important members of the IFSP team because you understand your child and his or her needs best. A family advocate and a service coordinator from the EI program may also be present at the IFSP meeting. The timeline for development for an IFSP is 30 days from the determination of eligibility.
How is the IFSP Written?
Before the IFSP can be written, the team must gather all relevant information. The evaluations that your child underwent will be immensely helpful in this process. In addition, you and other family members will likely be questioned about the daily routines of the household, the challenges that the child faces and the family’s goals for the child’s development.
Your family should also communicate the challenges that it faces as a whole. For example, tell the IFSP team about issues such as child care, a need for transportation to services and any training that might benefit the family.
Throughout the entire EI process, keep comprehensive written records. Brainstorm with your family members about the child’s challenges and goals for his or her development, and take notes during your conversation. Bring these notes and a list of questions to IFSP meetings, and be sure to take plenty of notes or use a voice recorder during these meetings.
Many parents create large binders filled with meeting notes, progress reports and notes about how the IFSP might be improved. For instance, whenever you take a phone call from a member of the IFSP team, make a note of the date, the person you talked to and the subject matter discussed. If a member of the IFSP team suggests that your child might benefit from a certain service or from extended services, have that person put it in writing and provide you with a copy. These records will be critical should a dispute ever arise.
What are the Components of the IFSP?
Every IFSP must contain certain key components. Check with the appropriate education agency for state-specific guidelines. Elements that are found in IFSPs in any state include:
People and Organizations Involved: The IFSP will list the name of the EI service coordinator who is working with your family. It may list the professionals who will provide services, as well as the organizations or people who are responsible for paying for services.
Current Levels of Functioning: The IFSP will spell out your child’s current levels of functioning. This might include any medical conditions he or she has and the results from vision and hearing exams. It might also include cognitive assessments, and information on the child’s communication abilities and social development.
Family Information: Information about the family is an important component of the IFSP. This might include details about your family’s priorities, concerns and the strengths and needs of the family and child.
Services: The specific services that your child will receive will be listed in detail. For example, your family’s IFSP might state that Lucas is to receive speech therapy for apraxia with Miss Jones in one-hour sessions twice per week. If you believe that your child requires additional help, negotiate for additional sessions or longer sessions. If the IFSP team resists this, you might consider having your child evaluated by an independent professional who can provide a written opinion regarding your child’s needs.
Outcomes: Outcomes, or goals, are a critical component of the IFSP. They must be relevant, specific and measurable. These are not achievement goals for your child’s entire life; rather, they are short-term goals. The services that are provided will work toward these outcomes. Here are some examples of IFSP outcomes:
- Lucas will grip his sippy cup, raise it to his mouth and drink without assistance.
- Lucas will use his picture exchange communication system (PECS) to communicate his desires for food, drink, potty and naptime.
- Lucas will articulate the “b” sound in the initial position (at the beginning of a word).
After the IFSP: What are the Next Steps?
By law, the IFSP team must meet to review the treatment plan every six months. The purpose is to determine whether updates, such as new outcomes, are needed. You may request an additional review at any time if you feel the IFSP is not serving your child’s best interests, or if there has been a major change or event in your child’s life (such as hospitalization).
Prior to your child’s third birthday, the IFSP team will meet to form a transition plan. It may be determined that your child has progressed to the point at which he or she is no longer eligible for services. If he or she still needs help, a plan will be developed to transition into an individualized education program (IEP) upon your child’s third birthday.