THE INDIVIDUAL FAMILY SERVICE PLAN (IFSP)
Mary Beth Bruder
An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) documents and guides the
early intervention process for children with disabilities and their families.
The IFSP is the vehicle through which effective early intervention is
implemented in accordance with Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA). It contains information about the services necessary
to facilitate a child's development and enhance the family's capacity to
facilitate the child's development.
Through the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as
a team to plan, implement, and evaluate services tailored to the family's
unique concerns, priorities, and resources.
According to IDEA, the IFSP shall be in writing and contain statements of
the child's present levels of physical development,
cognitive development, communication development,
social or emotional development, and adaptive
the family's resources, priorities, and concerns relating
to enhancing the development of the child with a
the major outcomes to be achieved for the child and the
family; the criteria, procedures, and timelines used to
determine progress; and whether modifications or revisions
of the outcomes or services are necessary;
- specific early intervention services necessary to meet the
unique needs of the child and the family, including the
frequency, intensity, and the method of delivery;
the natural environments in which services will be provided,
including justification of the extent, if any, to which the
services will not be provided in a natural environment;
the projected dates for initiation of services and their
the name of the service provider who will be responsible for
implementing the plan and coordinating with other agencies
and persons; and
steps to support the child's transition to preschool or other
U.S. Department of Education rules (1993) require that non-Part C
services needed by a child, including medical and other services,
are also described in the IFSP, along with the funding sources for
those services. The statute allows parents to be charged for some
services. If a family will be charged, this should be noted in the IFSP.
How the IFSP Differs from the IEP
The IFSP differs from the IEP in several ways:
It revolves around the family, as it is the family that is the
constant in a child's life.
It includes outcomes targeted for the family, as opposed to
focusing only on the eligible child.
It includes the notion of natural environments, which encompass
home or community settings such as parks, child care, and gym
classes. This focus creates opportunities for learning interventions
in everyday routines and activities, rather than only in formal,
It includes activities undertaken with multiple agencies beyond the
scope of Part C. These are included to integrate all services into
It names a service coordinator to help the family during the
development, implementation, and evaluation of the IFSP.
STEPS THAT LEAD TO EFFECTIVE IFSPs
Identify Family Concerns, Priorities, and Resources
The family's concerns, priorities, and resources guide the entire IFSP
process. Early intervention should be seen as a system of services
and supports available to families to enhance their capacity to care
for their children. The notion of partnership between the intervention
team and the family must be introduced and nurtured at this beginning
point of the IFSP process.
Identify the Family's Activity Settings
All children develop as the result of their everyday experiences. It is
important to document valued, enjoyable routines (bath time, eating,
play activities, etc.) and analyze them to see if they offer the sustained
engagement that leads to learning opportunities. Likewise, it is
important to identify the community activity settings (e.g., child care,
gymboree, swimming) that provide opportunities for learning.
Conduct a Functional Assessment
An effective assessment process
addresses the family's questions about enhancing their
child's development, focusing on each family member's
concerns and priorities
collects information for a specific purpose, for example,
the evaluation conducted by the early interventionist
at the beginning of the IFSP process determines if the
child is eligible for services
reflects a complete and accurate picture of the child's
strengths, needs, preferences for activities, materials,
has a person familiar to the child conduct observations and
other assessments in settings familiar to the child (e.g., home,
outdoor play area, child care program)
Collaboratively Develop Expected Outcomes.
After assessment information is collected, the team meets to review the
information and the family's concerns, priorities, and resources to develop
statements of expected outcomes or goals. Active family involvement is
essential. Collaborative goals focus on enhancing the family's capacity
and increasing the child's participation in valued activities.
Assign Intervention Responsibilities.
After outcomes are identified, the early intervention team assigns
responsibilities for intervention services that support those outcomes.
An IFSP requires an integrated, team approach to intervention. Using
a transdisciplinary team model is one method of integrating information
and skills across professional disciplines. In the transdisciplinary model,
all team members (including the family) teach, learn, and work together
to accomplish a mutually agreed upon set of intervention outcomes.
Individuals' roles are defined by the needs of the situation rather than
by the function of a specific discipline.
In a transdisciplinary model, one or a few people are primary implementers
of the program. Other team members provide ongoing direct or indirect
services, such as consultation. For example, an occupational therapist can
observe a toddler during meals, then recommend to the parent how to
physically assist the child.
Identify Strategies to Implement the Plan.
This step involves working closely as a team to increase learning opportunities,
to use the child's surroundings to facilitate learning, to select the most effective
strategies to bring about the desired outcomes, and identify reinforcers that
best support the child's learning.
Implementation may involve a toddler participating in a library story hour one
afternoon a week; a physical therapist showing family members how to use
adaptive equipment; or a service coordinator completing the paperwork to pay
for a child's transportation from his or her home to needed services.
Intervention strategies should help promote generalization of outcomesi.e.,
the child performs new skills in a variety of environments after intervention has
ended. For example, both service providers and family members can encourage
a child to request desired objects (e.g, toys) with gestures in numerous
environments (e.g., home, playgroup, child care).
Interventions should target several outcomes during one activity. When a child
participates in an activity, he or she uses a variety of skills from a number of
developmental areas. For example, during mealtimes, a toddler may use
communication skills to request more juice, fine motor skills to grasp a spoon,
a social skills to interact with a sibling.
Intervention strategies should help a child become more independent in his or
her world. The selected strategies might involve offering physical assistance
during mealtimes, prompting the correct response during a self-care routine, or
providing simple pull-on clothing to enable a child to dress without assistance.
Interventions provided within natural environments should look like a "typical activity."
For instance, a child learning to develop her fine motor skills should be encouraged
to color, draw pictures, play with puzzles, build with blocks, pick up her toys, use
eating utensils, play finger games, etc. Ideally, interventions should
- Be embedded in everyday natural environments.
- Emphasize the acquisition of functional competencies.
- Make it possible to increase a child's participation within the environments.
- Include both social and non-social activities
Evaluate Early Intervention to Ensure Quality
Both ongoing and periodic evaluations are essential to any early
intervention program. An evaluation may focus on a child's progress
toward obtaining desired outcomes and upon the quality of the
intervention program itself. Ongoing monitoring of the child's progress
requires keeping records in a systematic manner in order to answer
such critical questions as
To what extent and at what rate is the child making
progress toward attaining outcomes?
Are the selected intervention strategies and activities
promoting gains in development?
- Do changes need to be made in the intervention plan?
Periodically reviewing the IFSP provides a means of sharing results about
the child's progress and integrating these results into the plan. Part C of
IDEA requires that the IFSP be evaluated and revised annually and that
periodic reviews be conducted at least every six months (or sooner if
requested by the family). This ongoing process provides a continual support
to the family and child as they realize their own strengths and resources
to help their child learn.
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in programs for infants and young children with special needs and their families. Reston,
VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Lerner, J.W., Lowenthal, B., and Egar, R. (1998). Preschool children with special needs.
Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Zhang, C. & Bennett, T. (2000). The IFSP/IEP process: Do recommended practices address
culturally and linguistically diverse families? (CLAS Technical Report #10). Champaign, IL:
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The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI
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