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Action Step and Orientation

E4. Provide time and structure for communication and collaboration between the site/campus and service providers to address the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

In this lesson, you and your team will learn about implementing a system for identifying and collaborating among service providers to best meet the needs of children who may have delays or disabilities.

In Part 1, you will learn how your site/campus-based leadership team can support the process of identifying and addressing the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

Part 2, you will learn how your site/campus-based leadership team can create an effective structure for communication and collaboration between service providers to address the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Creating a System for Facilitating the Identification of Children with Delays or Disabilities

As leaders, a critical task you face is meeting the needs of every child in your program. Some children you serve will have special needs, including delays or disabilities. You will need to have an effective support system in place for addressing these special needs, one that includes communicating and collaborating with experts and providers in your communities. This section will outline ways that your site/campus-based leadership team can effectively support the identification of children with delays or disabilities as part of your data-informed plan for improving language and pre-literacy instruction.

Some children with delays or disabilities will have been identified and/or diagnosed prior to entering an early childhood site. For those children, continuous collaboration and communication among staff, parents and families, medical professionals, and service providers are essential. Part 2 of this lesson will talk more specifically about creating a successful plan for collaboration after children’s needs have been identified.

In other instances, a child may show signs of delays or disabilities that have not been identified. For example, a teacher may notice that a child is not able to grasp things with his fingers and/or manipulate toys even though he is past the age range for acquiring this skill. Another child may not be moving beyond the babbling stage of language even though she is over two years old. Although most early childhood sites do not have staff members qualified to diagnose special needs, you and your staff can be important partners in the identification process. Your staff can benefit by gaining knowledge about (1) how to use data from screenings, checklists, and observations effectively and appropriately; and (2) how to communicate helpful resources to families during the identification process.

Identifying needs, delays, or exceptionalities can be especially challenging with young children, particularly infants and toddlers. Your staff will need to use developmental screenings, checklists, family questionnaires, and observational notes to understand the specific needs of children and to determine the best classroom practices to meet those needs. Staff who are well trained in collecting and reviewing these forms of data can become helpful partners in the identification of specific delays or disabilities. The first step, therefore, in creating a system for meeting children’s special needs might be to plan professional development on how to use screenings and checklists effectively. You may also want to provide staff support on how to observe children and write observational reports.

Note: You may also review the Assessment component lessons for more information about using these assessments to support the identification of special learning needs.

After receiving professional development, staff members will become more astute observers and will be better able to make observational notes as soon as they suspect a child’s need for special support. Observational reports should contain important information, such as a description of the child’s behavior that is possibly of concern, the times at which that behavior occurs, and the situation(s) that lead up to and follow the behavior. This link provides an example of an observational tool.

After a staff member administers a screener, completes a checklist, or uses the observational tool to gather information, he or she will have data that could help your team during the process of describing and identifying a delay or disability. At this point, you will also need a clearly defined process for communicating this information to families. The site/campus-based leadership team will need to establish expectations for staff whose data raises concerns about possible delays or disabilities. It is important that staff understand how to begin collaborating with families, administrators, and other personnel to move forward in the process. Staff and leaders will play key roles in making referrals for special services after needs are identified. Review the resources in the To Learn More section for information about the appropriate steps to take when identifying children’s needs and referring children for special services.

Often, the first step in guiding parents and families to pursue further evaluation of a developmental concern about their child is to encourage them to contact their pediatrician to discuss the concern. (For information about how to communicate with parents and families, including an example script, see Lesson A4—Special learning needs.) In many instances, families will have an established relationship with a pediatrician they see on a regular basis. Your teachers need to know how to communicate observations to families and how to become supportive collaborators as they address concerns with their pediatrician. A pediatrician or other professional evaluating the child, for example, may appreciate reading a copy of your staff’s documented notes and/or checklist results as part of the evaluation process.

Remember that if members of your staff are asked to send written documents to an outside professional or talk with an outside professional about a child by phone, you must obtain formal, written consent from the parent(s) before doing so.

Sometimes families will not have a relationship with a pediatrician; they may need resources for forming a relationship with a medical provider who can follow up on possible delays or disabilities requiring medical support. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission provides information about Medicare/Medicaid for families who have children with disabilities. In addition, the websites of the two organizations below may be helpful resources for families during and after the identification process:

  • Early Childhood Intervention Services (ECI) is a statewide program for families of children age 0–3 who are experiencing disabilities or developmental delays. ECI supports families in helping their young children reach their potential through developmental services. ECI provides evaluations and assessments at no cost to families to determine eligibility and need for services. Children need no formal diagnosis for referral to ECI. Children may be referred for an ECI evaluation by a pediatrician or other developmental professional, including teachers. Children may even be referred by parents. If you are working with a family who does not have a regular pediatrician, you can make a referral directly to ECI on the child’s behalf, provided the parent is willing for you to do so.
  • The Partners Resource Network (PRN) is a nonprofit agency that operates the Texas statewide network of Parent Training and Information Centers (funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Special Education Programs). This agency helps families to
  • understand their child’s disability;
  • understand their rights and responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • obtain and evaluate resources and services; and
  • participate as team members as they work with professionals to plan services for their children.

In Part 2 of this lesson, we will discuss ways you can effectively collaborate with experts and providers in your community to meet the specific needs of your children.

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TO LEARN MORE: To learn more about language delays or disabilities in young children, you may want to review the following resources.

Texas Project FIRST offers a general guide for children age 0–SE that includes information about navigating the special education process, accessing supportive community services, and finding more specific resources for different delays and disabilities.

The Texas Education Agency provides a list of many specific disabilities and their symptoms, instructional strategies, accommodations, and resources.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) provides information about speech and hearing development and delays in children.

Additional resources from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI):

Parent Handbook” provides guidance for parents and families regarding the intervention process and their rights.

ECI Videos explain the services of ECI, parent and family rights (in English and Spanish), and why parents and families are important in interventions.

Part 2—Creating an Effective Structure for Communicating and Collaborating with Service Providers

Once specific children’s needs are identified at your site or campus, you will need to have an effective plan in place for meeting those needs. A first step may be to identify basic things your site or campus can do to support collaboration between stakeholders (i.e., staff, families, service providers, and community partners). Other possible first steps might include

  • identifying a space at your site or campus where regular meetings between stakeholders can take place;
  • planning a system of classroom coverage (e.g., substitute staff) that allows teachers to participate in these meetings when needed;
  • problem solving with staff to establish a basic schedule that provides time for them to meet with family members, specialists, and site or campus support staff to discuss how special services will be delivered and what their roles and responsibilities will be in providing services; and
  • developing an organized system of record keeping as documentation needs evolve. (These records may include staff reports, documentation from pediatricians, schedules for children’s medications, plans from service providers, etc.)

Having these initial structures in place will make it more likely that communication and collaboration go smoothly and continue on a regular basis.

Some children receive Early Childhood Intervention services within the childcare setting. You might consider what space is available for a therapist to work with a child onsite and what mechanisms can be put in place for regular communication and consultation between the therapist(s) and the teacher(s) to monitor and support the child’s progress over time.

The next steps may involve identifying service providers and determining which providers are willing to collaborate with your staff to meet the needs of children at your site or campus. This will set the stage for building your support team. You may initially consult the resources outlined in the To Learn More section of Part 1 to become familiar with the initial steps support teams may take to begin services for children with delays or disabilities.

Additionally, you will want to research other local community organizations, nonprofits, and agencies that provide services to young children. Ongoing planning meetings with your staff, service providers, and families will provide opportunities to learn more about specific disabilities so that you can effectively discuss, plan, and evaluate the effectiveness of your systems.

In addition to gathering resources and collaborating with providers, part of the initial team planning will include locating experts to help create individual goals for each child and support instructional staff and teachers in implementing a plan for meeting those goals. This plan is often referred to as an Individualized Education Program (IEP). For guidance in developing an IEP, you can review this resource from the Center for Parent Information and Resources. For children ages 0–3, this plan is called an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). More information is available at the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and in the resources from ECI, listed in the To Learn More section of Part 1.

Finally, as leaders, you will need to provide professional development to your staff in meeting the needs of children with delays or disabilities. One way to identify areas of need for professional development is through reviewing IFSPs and IEPs. For centers serving children ages 0–3, it is crucial for staff to review the IFSP and identify aspects they do not understand. The administrator plays an important role in seeking guidance for staff from therapeutic professionals about how to align with IFSP goals while the child is in the child-care setting. In school-based programs for children age 4 or older, special education regulations and procedures govern the identification process and creation of IEPs. As with younger children at early childhood sites, it is important for staff serving children in preschool programs to have expert guidance in understanding and complying with the IEPs for children who have them.

In addition to professional development, you may decide that your system will include regular coaching for classroom staff who work with children identified as having delays. An effective coach is knowledgeable about delays and visits the classrooms each week to model lessons or collaboratively plan strategies that will help children who have delays or disabilities. An effective coach also supports staff in implementing individual IEPs/IFSPs, helps staff look at data from assessments and observations, and works with staff to continuously plan and evaluate growth so that teaching strategies and objectives are adjusted and updated. Coaches can make suggestions and bring resources to staff, such as helpful articles, webinars, and websites, that can be shared with families. Finally, coaches can also help by keeping the leadership team informed of current goals and by offering ideas for professional development that might help both staff and families.

By having a strong system of communication and collaboration among all stakeholders in place at your site or campus, you can best meet each child’s needs. By taking the time to meet and plan together and learn more about each other, you will form trusting relationships. Furthermore, partners will become more comfortable sharing their ideas to support your goals, and families will become more comfortable interacting and planning with your staff. Your thoughtfully built system will make it possible for your program to supply necessary services in a comprehensive and timely manner.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your team’s progress with providing time and structure for communication and collaboration between service providers to address the needs of children with delays or disabilities, you may want to consider some of the following next actions:

  • Plan staff professional development focused on conducting effective observations of children and recording observational data.
  • Set up initial site or campus structures that can support collaboration among staff, families, and service providers (e.g., meeting space, coverage for teachers attending meetings, initial schedule of meetings, etc.).
  • Begin to identify service providers and community partners who can or will collaborate to meet the needs of children at your site or campus.
  • Provide professional development focused on understanding the ECI process for children ages 0–3 and the special education or admission, review, and dismissal process for preschoolers age 4 or older.
  • Provide professional development focused on inclusion policies and strategies for including young children with disabilities in childcare programs.

Assignment

E4. Provide time and structure for communication and collaboration between the site/campus and service providers to address the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E4 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for information about how your staff can help identify the needs of children with delays or disabilities.
  • Refer to Part 2 to learn about establishing systems to support collaboration among stakeholders (i.e., staff, family, service providers) to meet the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.