A Brief Overview
- Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. Families are served with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). An IFSP ends when the child turns 3.
- A child who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) receives those services at school. Not all children who qualified for an IFSP will quality for an IEP. An IEP is for children ages 3-21, or until high-school graduation.
- Families may transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of an IEP team. This can feel like a big change. The information in this article can empower parents.
- Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating early about what the child might need to do well.
- Read on to learn what parents need to know when a young child with special needs makes the transition from Birth-3 services into preschool or another program.
- A parent-support agency called Informing Families provides a 12-minute video to guide parents through the early-learning transition process.
When a child is born with a disability or the family realizes early that an impairment might impact a young child’s ability to learn and develop at a typical rate, the family can get help from the state. Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) is managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. When a child is ready to graduate from those early-learning services, the school district determines whether to conduct an educational evaluation to see whether the child qualifies for school-based services. If a child qualifies, the family and school district work together to generate an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can begin at age 3 in preschool.
A child who qualifies for an IEP receives those services at school. Families transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of the IEP team. The goals change, and parents help teachers and school staff talk about what the child needs to successfully access school and learning. This transition can be disorienting to some families. Read on for more detail.
Early Intervention can start from birth
Early intervention services are guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under “Part C” of the IDEA. The U.S. Department of Education manages a federal grant program under the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that helps states manage early intervention programs to support infants and young children and their families.
Part C services are available for infants and young children who:
- Experience developmental delays, which are medically diagnosed to impact cognitive, physical, communication, social-emotional and/or adaptive skills
- Have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay
Washington’s ESIT program assigns agencies in each county to serve as a “lead agency” to coordinate early learning services and testing. The lead agency works with service providers and the family to review a child’s medical record, discuss any observations by caregivers, and conduct screenings to see what’s going on and whether the issues of concern meet criteria under Part C for early intervention.
When a child is found eligible for services, a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) manages the case. The FRC helps to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Each plan is unique and may involve individualized instruction, therapy services and supported access to community resources. The plan is designed around the needs of the child and family and is not based on a predetermined program model.
Family-based, early learning services end on the child’s third birthday. A new educational evaluation is required to see whether the student qualifies for an IEP under “Part B” of the IDEA.
Part B services are available for children ages 3-21 (or until high-school graduation) who:
- Have a qualifying disability in at least one of 14 federal qualifying categories
- Are significantly affected by that disability at school (“Significant Educational Impact” is determined with evidence and data)
- Require specialized instruction to overcome the barriers of that disabling condition
To qualify for an IEP under the IDEA, a student meets criteria in one of 14 disability categories
Other Health Impairment
Specific Learning Disability
Speech / Language Impairment
Traumatic Brain Injury
Developmental Delay (ages 0-8)
Note that the disability category of developmental delay can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based, IEP services through age 8.
Helpers get creative during “Part C-to-B Transition” planning
The FRC helps the family and school district get ready. Often this is referred to as “Part C-to-B Transition” planning, so it’s helpful when families understand that Parts C and B come from federal law, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), designed to ensure that children with disabilities get the help they need to be successful at school and prepared for life.
For families who have received services through the state’s early-learning program (ESIT), Part C-to-B Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating about what the child might need to do well. The work includes a “Transition Planning Conference,” which happens about 90 days before a child turns 3. The participants at this meeting write a plan for what services or community supports the child might receive.
Each plan is unique and designed to respond to individual needs. A child’s plan might indicate need for a specific child-care setting or medical-based therapies. The plan might include a referral to a specific, state-funded special-education preschool program through Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP, pronounced “E-Cap”). A transition plan also can name local playgroups or parent-support networks to connect the family to community resources. If a child’s educational evaluation has determined that the child is eligible for an IEP, then information about that is included.
Not all children who qualified for early-learning support will qualify for an IEP. Children who are not eligible for IEP services might be eligible to receive accommodations and support through a Section 504 Plan.
Early learning isn’t the only pathway to an IEP evaluation
Children who didn’t receive early-learning interventions can also be evaluated to determine whether they qualify for school-based services that can start as young as age 3 and can continue through age 21, or until a student graduates from high school.
Anyone with concerns about a child can refer the child for an educational evaluation. These referrals usually come from parents, teachers, medical providers or early-learning specialists. When a concerned adult formally requests an evaluation from the school district (best-practice is to make the request in writing), then the district is bound by the IDEA to respond to that request within 25 school days. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about the evaluation process.
The school district has a responsibility under the Child Find mandate of the IDEA to seek out and evaluate children with known or suspected disabilities who may need services.
When a school district agrees to evaluate, parents sign consent for the assessments to begin. The IDEA requires schools to complete an evaluation within 35 school days. For a child receiving early-learning services, the first IEP meeting is required on or before the child’s third birthday.
Families may invite whomever they want to an IEP meeting. For example, they can invite the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC), a family member, a friend or any other support person.
If the school district does not conduct an educational evaluation, or if the evaluation indicates that the child doesn’t qualify for school-based, IEP services, parents have the right to disagree with the school’s decision. The family can request a written statement that describes the school district’s position, with any information or data that was used to justify the decision.
Parents have rights to disagree through a variety of dispute engagement options. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation, IEP process and Procedural Safeguards, Student and Parent Rights.
PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center provides technical assistance and can help parents understand how to participate in their child’s learning. Got to: wapave.org/get-help or call (253) 565-2266, 1-800-5-PARENT ext.115
The Arc of Washington hosts local Parent-to-Parent (P2P) programs across the state. Families can request a “support parent match” to talk with another parent who has already navigated this process. Visit Arcwa.org for more information.
Informing Families – informingfamilies.org
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – k12.wa.gov
OSPI Early Childhood services – k12.wa.us/Specialeducation/earlychildhood
Early Intervention Resources in English and Spanish – ParentCenterHub.org
Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families – dcyf.wa.gov
If you are concerned about a child’s development: