By Dana Childress, Ph.D. and Megan Schumaker-Murphy, Ed.D.
In the Going Virtual webinar series, we recently discussed how to ensure smooth transitions when children are moving between early intervention (EI) programs or from EI to community programs such as early childhood special education (ECSE). These transitions can be stressful for any family, but military families may have additional, unique stressors associated with the transition process. When a family is relocating due to the military member’s permanent change of station (PCS), the EI-related transition is just one of several transitions for the family. The military family may also be navigating new housing in the new community, reestablishing medical and specialist care, enrolling older children in new schools, and possibly even managing during the military member’s deployment. Here are some tips for how service coordinators and other EI service providers can support families before and during these transitions:
Ask the family what they want and really listen.
- Depending on the child’s age, find out if the parent wants to transition into another EI program, move up to the ECSE program, receive therapy through Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS; depending on availability/eligibility) or a civilian therapy agency, and/or refer their child to a different program such as Head Start or a community child care or preschool.
- Ask how each parent wants to be involved in the transition process and respect their decision, especially when only one parent will be actively involved.
- Learn about military culture and the family’s home culture so you can be better prepared to answer questions and support families through the process.
Gather and share information about community options, eligibility criteria, and how referrals are made.
- Since eligibility criteria often differ from state to state, from EDIS to state, from ECSE program to program, and among community programs, be sure to identify the eligibility criteria and process for the receiving program.
- Provide the family with information so they can consider their options, especially when the child’s eligibility for services may be different from the EI program they are leaving.
- Find out when and how a referral is made. Can the child be referred before the family has moved to the new community, or do they need to wait? What information will be needed?
Provide the family with copies of their child’s EI record.
- At a minimum, make sure the family has a copy of the IFSP and any discharge notes or reports from service providers. These may be sent with the referral to the new program but providing the family with copies can be very helpful in case there is any question about documentation once the family arrives at the new post.
- Suggest to the parents that they keep these copies with them rather than packing them with their belongings in case there is a delay in shipment or moving and the records get misplaced.
Help the family begin to establish a relationship with the receiving program.
- Whenever possible, facilitate a virtual meeting or phone call between the parents and a representative from the receiving program.
- Be sure to share contact information so the family has someone to connect with once they are settled in the new community.
- To help the receiving program get to know the child and family, talk with the parents about sending a photo of the child and additional information about child and family interests. That way, the referral becomes personal to the receiving program and can help with the program and family making connections.
Advocate for equitable transition opportunities.
- Join meetings with the family and the receiving program to help the parents share information about the child’s strengths and needs and family priorities.
- Make sure families for whom English is a second language have access to an interpreter if needed.
- Ask the parent about beliefs about special education and sending their young child to school.
- Remember that providing good information helps families make informed decisions which increases their access to equitable opportunities.
- Hopefully, you will have established a good relationship with the family before the transition. As families prepare for the uncertainties of transition and as they go through the process, call/email/text the parent periodically and after any transition meetings to check on their well-being.
- Show you care and encourage the parent, acknowledging that transitioning your three-year-old child can be an emotionally heavy time for families.
- Make space for family members to ask questions and even change their minds about transition. What comes next for their child is up to them.
Check out the Ensuring Smooth EI Transitions webinar recording for additional thoughts and ideas.