Early Intervention For Special Needs Children in Maine
The Handicapped Infants and Toddlers Program was set up in 1986 by Public Law 99-457, Part H. It offers federal money to any state that will establish a system of early intervention services to children with special needs, age 0-2, and their families. The intent of early intervention is to identify and treat certain conditions or needs early, and thereby lessen or prevent the effects.
Part H regulations set out specific guidelines a state must follow in order to receive the federal funds. Each program must be designed to include:
1. A focus on the family
This represents a significant shift in philosophy from past service delivery systems. Part H recognizes that every family has resources and skills of its own and considers these in the process of early intervention. A family is offered support and education; its strengths and needs are used to determine, write, and implement the Individualized Family Service Plan, the IFSP. It is the written document of goals and objectives spelling out the program of services and therapies.
2. A multi-disciplinary assessment
The IFSP must be based on results from a number of formal tests, observations, and interviews gathered by family and professionals from different disciplines, i.e. medical doctors, speech pathologists, psychologists, etc. The child's present level of
performance (what he/she can do, as well as weaknesses) is considered.
3. Comprehensive services provided by qualified personnel
The state must have available a full range of services, including medical and social work and parent education. Related services are those that support the direct services; they include, but are not limited to: transportation, physical and occupational therapies, counseling, speech and language, recreation, and audiology.
4. Interagency cooperation, with public monitoring
Different state and private agencies may share responsibility for the funding and providing of services, but they will be coordinated by one state department.
5. Procedural safeguards
Parents and their children will have certain rights regarding their involvement with the early intervention system. Although each state may add to what the federal law requires, these three parental rights must be included:
- the right to give or deny consent at any step in the process;
- the right to confidentiality of all information regarding their family;
- the right to challenge and appeal any decisions made during the process.
6. FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education)
The sum of therapies and services designed for each family and child constitute the free and appropriate public education guaranteed by Part H to every child with special needs who is under five years of age.*In order to be considered "appropriate", the program must conform to all of the above (#1-#5) and place the child in the "least restrictive environment"(LRE). This is the setting where the child can best benefit from the services and, at the same time, be included with children without disabilities as much as possible.
*Early intervention services for children under three in Maine include evaluation, the Individualized Family Service Plan, and case management. For children three to five, FAPE services include evaluation, the IFSP, case management, and any needed therapy.
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