The Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). ERIC
by Bruder, Mary Beth
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
1. the child's present levels of physical development, cognitive development,
communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive
2. the family's resources, priorities, and concerns relating to enhancing
the development of the child with a disability;
3. 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;
4. 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;
5. 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;
6. the projected dates for initiation of services and their anticipated
7. the name of the service provider who will be responsible for implementing
the plan and coordinating with other agencies and persons; and
8. steps to support the child's transition to preschool or other appropriate
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, contrived environments.
* It includes activities undertaken with multiple agencies beyond the
scope of Part C. These are included to integrate all services into one
* 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
* 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, and environments
-- 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 trans-disciplinary team model is one method of
integrating information and skills across professional disciplines. In
the trans-disciplinary 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 trans-disciplinary 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 outcomes,
i.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
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
* 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.
Brown, W., Thurman, S.K., & Pearl, L.F. (1993). Family centered
early intervention with infants and toddlers: innovative cross-disciplinary
approaches. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Division for Early Childhood. (1993). DEC recommended practices: Indicators
of quality 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: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Early Childhood Research Institute on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate