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By Dana Childress, Ph.D. & Megan Schumaker-Murphy, Ed.D.

During the first webinar in the Going Virtual Series, we shared four practices and lots of strategies to help early intervention (EI) practitioners engage families in a virtual space. Before we shared those practices, we talked about the importance of reflecting on your own beliefs. This personal level of reflection is so important that we’re going to add it to the practices list! Let’s review each practice with an emphasis on self-reflection.

NEW Practice #1 – Acknowledge and reflect on your core beliefs

Before any serious equity work in EI, you must take the time to think about the thoughts and beliefs you bring to every visit and how your beliefs affect family engagement.

Ask yourself these questions to help you reflect:

  • What do I believe about parenting? Family engagement? The role of parents/caregivers in early intervention? My role in this work?
  • How do my words and actions reflect my beliefs?
  • What do I believe about this family?
  • What is my role in building the capacity of this parent/caregiver?
  • How do I authentically build on what this family is already doing?
  • How do I provide the support this specific family needs so equitable access is more likely?

Be honest with yourself. Use these questions to frame a conversation with a colleague or supervisor. Then, use them again periodically to check in with yourself to make sure you are individualizing intervention with equity in mind.

Practice #2 – Clarify how virtual visits work

This practice is all about orienting parents to the virtual structures, environment, and resources needed, remembering that most parents have never done something like this before.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I describe virtual visits to families?
  • How could I clarify how these visits work so families understand the importance of parent-child interactions?

Be sure to explain how virtual EI works with an emphasis on family engagement and parent-child interaction by describing what a visit looks like or sharing video examples (see the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center’s page, Provider and Educator Use of Technology, for lots of videos). Explain tech requirements and then discuss options for service delivery that work for the family.

Practice #3 – Listen and Learn

Show that you value and honor who the parent is as an individual and who the family is by listening and learning. Once the parent knows how virtual visits work, focus on how this might work for this family.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to know from this family to help them access virtual visits?
  • What biases might I have that could be affecting how I listen and my willingness to learn from this family?
  • How could the EI team, including the family, use this information to facilitate equitable access to services?

Ask the family about their comfort with technology, what device(s) they use, and how much bandwidth they have. Use what you learn to help the family plan for the first virtual session.

Practice #4 – Work Together to Prepare

Using what you’ve learned, you can prepare the family so they feel informed and ready for virtual intervention.

Ask yourself first:

  • What do I believe about this parent’s capacity to successfully manage tele-intervention?
  • What guidance will I need to provide to help the parent feel confident with logging in, using the webcam and microphone, and managing the technology before and during sessions?
  • How comfortable do I feel with facilitating virtual sessions where I am coaching families during parent-child interactions? What do I need to do or learn to build my own comfort?

Pause and consider your own comfort with virtual visits. How you feel will affect how you prepare the family. If you need help building your own confidence and technical skills, reach out to your supervisor or a knowledgeable colleague.

To support the family, schedule a 15 min tech check before the first visit to practice together how to login, where to place the device, how to get the best audio, etc. Describe how coaching works so parents can be prepared for how you’d like to observe their interactions and routines, how you will verbally coach them through using strategies, and how you will reflect together and share feedback through the screen. Ask what the parent and child like to do together and what the parent would like you to observe or help with, then plan the visits around these activities.

Practice #5 – Check-in Frequently

Finally, be sure to check in frequently during and between visits. Ask the family how they think things are going, what they like, and what they’d like to do differently.

Check-in with yourself by considering:

  • How are you feeling about your virtual service provision?
  • What is going well? What is a struggle for you? Why?
  • What support do you need to feel successful?

Tap into your resources. Ask to observe virtual visits conducted by colleagues and invite them to observe you.

Revisit the reflection questions under Practice #1 and move through the rest of the practices for each family you collaborate with. Remember, what you do is grounded in what you believe so stay open to learning about this new way of conducting early intervention.

We hope you will join us for the next webinar in the Going Virtual series, Culturally Sustaining Coaching Approaches, on May 24, 2022 to explore the connection between culturally sustaining practices and coaching practices that support learning for caregivers and children during family routines and activities.

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