Family Relationships as the Context for Intervention

By Jenna Weglarz-Ward, Ed.M.

Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, It's A Family Portrait, January 23, 2011]
Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, It’s A Family Portrait, January 23, 2011]
Relationships between young children and their primary caregivers are the foundation for child development, growth, and learning. These early relationships have the potential to support or hinder a child’s development. Positive relationships help build neural connections and effective executive functioning necessary in later in life. Challenging relationships may hinder the development of strong and integrative connections and impact self-regulation and learning. (Learn more about relationships and brain development at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.)

To this end, the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) Part C early intervention services stress the need for family-centered practices including teaming and collaboration with family members as well as intervention based on family preferences and routines (OSEP, 2008). Intervention should enhance the ability of caregivers to support their children’s development.

Across professional disciplines such as occupational and speech therapy (see list below of professional recommended practices), intervention should:

  • take place in children’s natural environments such as family homes and community settings (e.g., child care programs, libraries, restaurants, grocery stores),
  • be embedded in functional and meaningful routines such as play, household chores, mealtimes, or bathing,
  • be carried out by caregivers with the support and coaching of professionals, and
  • provide families with community resources to meet their individual needs.

By developing interventions that are focused on the relationships and interactions between children and family members, families recognize the importance of their relationships and are empowered to support their children’s learning. In order to achieve this goal, providers need to consider the needs of each family and the unique child-caregiver relationships. This can be challenging for professionals as many are trained in medical models or classroom settings that focus intervention directly on the patient or child. Seeking professional development and support for this model of relationship-based intervention can help professionals develop these important skills.

Professional Recommended Practices

  • Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth to age 8. Washington DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
  • Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2014). DEC   Recommended Practices for Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education.
  • Division of Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. (2014). DEC position statement: The role of special instruction in early intervention.
  •  American Occupational Therapy Association. (2009). FAQ: What is the role of occupational therapy in early intervention.
  •  Chiarello, L., & Effgen, S. K. (2006). Updated competencies for physical therapists working in early intervention. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 18, 148-158.
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2008). Core knowledge and skills in early intervention speech-language pathology practice [Knowledge and Skills]. Available from

This post was written by Jenna Weglarz-Ward, EdM & Michaelene M. Ostrosky, PhD, members of the OneOp FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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