Infants or toddlers (birth through age two) who have disabilities or who are at great risk for disabilities were originally guaranteed the right to early intervention programs through PL 99-457, which was passed in 1986, and that right continues today through IDEA '04. Individualized family service plans (IFSPs) are written documents that ensure that special services are delivered to these young children and their families. The IFSP is the management tool that guides professionals as they deliver these children's special education programs. Service coordinators are the professionals who provide oversight and coordination of the services outlined in IFSPs. The key components of these early education management plans are

  • The child's current functioning levels in all relevant areas (physical development, cognitive development, language and speech development, psychosocial development, and self-help skills)
  • The family's strengths and needs in regard to the development of their child
  • The major outcomes expected (expressed with procedures, evaluation criteria, and a time line)
  • The services necessary and a schedule for their delivery
  • Projected dates for initiation of services
  • The name of the service coordinator
  • A biannual review (every six months), with the child's family, of progress made and of any need for modifications in the IFSP
  • Indication of methods for transitioning the child to services available for children ages three to five

To many service coordinators and early childhood specialists, the IFSP is a working document for an ongoing process in which parents and specialists work together, continually modifying, expanding, and developing a child's educational program. Children and families who participate in early intervention programs often find these years to be an intense period, with many professionals offering advice, training, guidance, and personalized services, as well as care and concern. Also, the transition to preschool at the age of three can be particularly difficult and frightening. One reason is that services that are delivered primarily at the family's home now will be delivered at a preschool. Thus IFSPs include plans for transition efforts for these youngsters and their families to bridge a time of very intensive and individually delivered intervention to a more traditional classroom situation (CEC, 1999). IDEA '04 allows states to give families the option of delaying entrance into school-based preschool programs by keeping their child in an early intervention program, but when they do so, the family sometimes has to pay for some or all of the services.