If child care providers have children with special needs in their programs, they may have heard the terms IEP and IFSP. What do these terms mean, and how do they help child care providers better educate children with special needs?
Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, are plans developed to guide the education of a child with special needs between ages 3 and 21 in the early childhood or school setting. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all children with an identified special need have an IEP to help educators meet their unique educational needs. The IEP is a team-based effort that includes the child’s parents, child care providers, school staff, doctors, therapists, and even the child when appropriate. At every step, the family is involved to ensure that the decisions made are best for them and their child.
An IEP is a written document that describes the ways that an individual child learns best, the measures and assessments that are most appropriate to document that child's learning, and the supports and special educational services that the child needs in order to learn most successfully. The IEP includes specific learning goals for the child. An IEP must be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that it continues to be appropriate for the child's learning progress and special needs.
An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a document intended to help families and professionals within a community support the special needs of a child under age 3. The IFSP focuses on providing supports and services to the family of a very young child with special needs in order to help that family enhance their child's growth and development. The IFSP is developed based on in-depth assessments of the child by a variety of professionals. An IFSP is usually broader than an IEP. In addition to learning goals and supports, the IFSP documents the child's current developmental level, describes outcomes for the child and family, and specifies community services for the child and family that will support the development of the whole child. The IFSP includes the needs of the whole family, with the parents as major contributors in its development. IFSP team members may come from a variety of different organizations and may include medical professionals, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, child development specialists, child care providers, early intervention specialists, social workers, and others.
The IEP and IFSP can be effective tools to help educators make decisions about the most effective care and education practices for a young child with special needs. Child care providers may be members of a team that creates, reviews, and revises the IEP or IFSP for a child in their child care program. If you are asked to be a team member, here are some of the things you may contribute:
If a child comes into your child care program with an identified special need, ask for a copy of the IEP or IFSP. Child care directors and providers should review the document carefully, and pay attention to the following:
More information about working with children who have special needs is available in the eXtension Alliance for Better Child care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs. To learn more about disability laws in the United States, see What Child Care Providers Need to Know about Disability Laws. For more specific information on including children with special needs in child care, check out the article What Is Inclusion? For more details about IEPs and IFSPs, go to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website.