Monday, March 11, 2013

Family-Level Needs of Families of Preschoolers

From Kansas, comes an important question about how to promote family engagement and support to the family of preschoolers with special needs, even though there are no requirements or data collected for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act--the part pertaining to children 3 years old and up. 

First, if IEP teams did Routines-Based Interviews, they would (a) identify family-level needs, (b) get “authentic” and functional child-level needs, and (c) give the family a good basis on which to decide what their top priorities are for IEP goals. This puts the IEP team in the awkward but wonderful position of knowing about family-level needs but not being able to do anything about them, in the traditional sense, which is to write a goal to address them. 
Second, the IEP team then has a moral and intellectual (because of our knowledge of child and family development) obligation to help the family. The problem is they don’t have a legal obligation to do so, and many school-system personnel don’t  consider anything other than what’s required by law. So the two decisions to be made at this point are where to document these needs and how to address them. 
Third, I recommend that each school district or program within a district have a policy for where family-level needs are documented, so supervisors can check whether needs have been addressed. This document should list the needs as well as all efforts to meet those needs. 
Fourth, I recommend that each district or program decide whether the child’s special ed teacher, a Section 619 local administrator (e.g., director of preschool special ed), or another person be designated as the person to help meet family-level needs. 
Fifth, school personnel need good professional development on how to meet family-level needs within the constraints of their resources, which is often almost 0 time or money! The focus of that PD is on providing information to families and following up with them. If a family determines that a need exists for the mother to spend more time with an older sibling, for example, the school people should be trained to ask about informal supports for babysitting and, failing that, to give the family information about babysitting or respite resources. 
Sixth, school personnel need to ensure that someone in the school system has a good handle on community resources for families and that the designated family people know who that person is.

No magical tools apart from the RBI exist. The rest requires a culture change, but I firmly believe the way to change beliefs is to provide structures or procedures that lead people to do the right thing. You can’t just preach at them. So, in my experience in working through this difficult issue—difficult because the law does not provide for meeting family-level needs, these six structures need to be put in place if schools want to overcome the gap in the law.