Guest Author - Susan Hart
Going from an IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan) to an IEP (Individualized Education Program) can be frustrating and confusing for parents of children with special needs. An IFSP gives parents greater control over their child’s therapy and education because the therapy is often done in the child’s home or in another location where the parent can oversee the child’s activities. Once the child turns three, however, they are moved on to an IEP. Because the therapy takes place in school, parents are less able to oversee exactly what their child is receiving. Many parents feel their children “fall between the cracks” once they fall under the jurisdiction of a school district and an IEP. What can parents do to ensure their child gets what he needs and deserves under the IEP?
With an IFSP, a service coordinator acts as a liaison between parents and therapists. However, there is no liaison for an IEP. This means the parents need to come prepared to ensure their child is getting everything he needs. Budgets for school districts special needs programs are often less than those for early intervention groups, so parents sometimes find their child’s services are reduced when they move to an IEP. This is where it is crucial for parents not to settle for less than what their child needs. School districts are notorious for trying to give as little as possible. There is no better advocate for a child than his parents, and it is their responsibility to fight for whatever their child needs. Parents would be well served to read through the state and school district parental and student rights when it comes to special education. Too often parents assume that what the district offers is all they are required to provide. Many times this is not the case, and parents have to push the district in order to get all the services their child needs. Unfortunately, some parents are unaware of their rights and give in to whatever the district deems appropriate for the child. Sadly, it is the child who suffers and continues to suffer throughout his education.
One of the best things for parents to do is to keep in regular communication with all members of the IEP team including teachers, therapists, doctors, and any other parties involved. Knowing that a parent is actively trying to stay updated and involved in their child’s therapy and education goes a long way in encouraging therapists and teachers to give their best effort. Volunteering in the child’s classroom allows parents to see the day-to-day events and obstacles their child experiences. It allows the parents to see exactly how the therapy and learning environments work, and thus, gives parents the opportunity to make suggestions as to how to improve that environment to best suit their child’s unique needs.
Parents should remember that unlike an IFSP which is renewed every six months, in many states an IEP is renewed or updated each year. (Some stated only renew IEPs every three years. In these cases, they look over test scores and possibly make minor modifications to the IEP yearly). However, an IEP can be renewed sooner at the request of the parent or an IEP team member. Thus, if a child achieves the IEP goals or seems to be struggling, a new IEP can be issued to provide more appropriate services.