Written by Kimberly Williams, Service Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
Picture it – James will be 3 years old in a few months, and his parents are planning a birthday party and their ‘transition’ out of the Infant-Toddler Program. This can be an exciting time, but transition can also be scary and confusing for some families. Transition means different things for different families. Some children exit the Infant-Toddler Program at age three having achieved all their IFSP outcomes, and the family does not need any further intervention services. However, other children and families will need to explore support and service options for age three and after. For these families, their child will go from routines-based services that support the whole family in the home and community and transition to other services that focus specifically on the child in an educational or clinic-based setting. In addition, the family will be “losing” their Infant-Toddler Program Service Coordinator, who has been a consistent contact person for the family and who has helped them navigate the world of Early Intervention. This transition process will mark the first of many transitions for some families. As service coordinators and early intervention providers, it is important to help families understand and negotiate this transition process.
The Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA) is a federal education law that helps to reinforce the importance of early development and learning in young children. Part C of IDEA (Infant-Toddler Program) ensures that early intervention services and supports are available for infants and toddlers from birth up to age three. Part B of IDEA (Preschool Program) is for children age 3 through 5 with disabilities. In North Carolina, Part B of IDEA is administered by the NC Department of Public Instruction. As mentioned, at age three, some children transition from Part C services to Part B services, some children transition into other community support options, but all children ‘transition’ out of the Infant-Toddler Program. To help make this process as easy as possible for families, here is some more information about transition for both Service Coordinators and other early intervention providers.
- To ensure a smooth transition process for all families, it is important to begin discussions about transition planning early with all families. Transition planning is an ongoing process and happens in different ways, through both informal discussion and scheduled meetings.
- Service Coordinators help the family develop a written Transition Plan and schedule a Transition Planning Conference (TPC). For more details about these specific requirements and timelines, check in with your local contacts to make sure that you have the information you need to keep the families you support moving in the right direction.
- The TPC is an opportunity to explore the range of service options that may be available for a family and child after the age of three. Part B representatives are invited to attend and provide information about potential support and services. This can help the family make informed decisions about whether or not they want proceed with the Part B eligibility process in order to receive special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
- Transition planning is more than just exploring Part B services. Be sure you check out the resources available near you so that you can be prepared to share that information with families. The family might want to also look at private preschool, Head Start, or private therapies. As Service Coordinators, being knowledgeable about your local community options is important so we can provide families with the information that they need, and then be sure to support them in those decisions.
- Just like we focus on building relationships with families, we also need to do the same with other community resources. While some families may feel some stress around moving into new services with new providers, it is important to remember that both the Infant-Toddler Program and the Part B program both want to offer valuable supports to families. It may look different, but the heart is the same. We both want to provide services necessary to ensure the children we are serving have the best possible chance for the best possible outcome. Knowing this will help us to build and foster relationships with our Part B representatives, our early intervention providers, and other community partners.
For Providers and Other Team Members:
- Each team member can be a huge help with transitions. Often, providers and other team members aren’t sure about how to help a family during the transition process. The reality is, you have more knowledge than you may think. A lot of you have worked in school or clinic settings and may be able to provide information about what these different settings look like and how you feel the child may perform in them. You know this child just as well as the service coordinator, and your professional guidance matters in making sure they are set up to succeed in any future learning environments.
- IEP meetings are open to anyone the family wants to invite. It can be very helpful for the Part B provider in your area to have recent evaluations that you have completed on the child or other information about the child’s strengths, your concerns, and what you have been doing with the family. You can participate in these meetings in a variety of ways – you are welcome to attend the IEP meetings if the parents ask, or you can send written information with the family or service coordinator with the family’s permission. Some team members may even have relationships with the school system or other community partners. Remember, we are a team, and we all want to see this little one do well!
I hope this provided you with some valuable information about transitions. The big takeaway is that we are all a team, and we all have the same goals for children and families. Whether you are a service coordinator, a speech therapist, or a social worker, we all play an important role in helping children and families transition to a new phase of services. It is important to work together to make this process as smooth and seamless as possible so families can continue supporting their children’s learning and growth.
Here in Mecklenburg County, we have a variety of local options for families that you can review and take into your next TPC. For example, did you know that Head Start is a free preschool program for children ages 3-5 to help prepare them for kindergarten? Did you also know that Head Start is income-based, but if a child has an IEP through the school system, the income requirement is waived? Yeah, I didn’t know either! We also have another program called Polliwog that is specifically for children who either aren’t eligible for Part B preschool or who could use some additional behavioral support in their private preschool settings. These are just a few of the possibilities – be sure to check in with other colleagues to see what you can be talking about to help families transition out of early intervention.