When an early intervention service provider begins working with a new family, often a primary goal is to establish a collaborative relationship right from the start. Research has highlighted the benefits of discussing a provider’s role with a family during the first initial visit and encouraging families to view their role as an intervener (Davies, Marshall, Brown, & Goldbart, 2016). By engaging in at-home activities with their child and communicating with the provider, caregivers assume the role of primary change agent (Davies et al., 2016). Additionally, an early interventionist should see themselves as a family coach, promoting a conceptualization of activities targeting a child’s goals within established routines (Davies et al., 2016). In addition to discussing roles, there are six traits that a provider can focus on during the initial visit to establish a collaborative relationship.
Communication. The communication between family members and providers should be honest and open. When communicating with families, take time to listen for what is most important to them. Communicate clearly, while being sensitive to the emotions a parent or caregiver may have related to the delays their child is experiencing (Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004).
Trust. Caregivers should feel that the provider working with their family can be trusted. Providers can establish trust by being punctual and consistent. Families also should feel confident that their child’s early interventionist will keep the information they share confidential. Trust is also built when a provider values a family’s goals and priorities above their own (Blue-Banning et al., 2004).
Humility. Early interventionists have a strong base of knowledge related to developmental delays and disorders. However, the caregiver is the expert on their child and should be valued as such (Kriston, 2017). A strong partnership is built when the expertise of both the provider and the family intersect to develop a family-centered plan to address a child’s developmental concerns and family goals.
Flexibility. Family dynamics and circumstances will differ from one family to another. Personalities within a family can vary as well. A provider who adjusts their approach, style, and even the ways in which they communicate to better serve a family demonstrates flexibility. Author and educator Elizabeth Kriston (2017) calls this “being a chameleon.”
Withhold Judgement. Keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn about a family’s values and goals is key to establishing a strong collaborative relationship. Providers should learn about a family’s schedule, work obligations, and cultural beliefs. This is especially important when serving military families as their schedule and family life may require flexibility related to their connection to military service. Families should feel understood and not judged as they work to best support their child’s development (Blue-Banning et al., 2004).
Empowerment. Early interventionists have an opportunity to prepare caregivers to be effective team members and advocates for their children. Blue-Banning and colleagues (2004) stressed that early intervention should “not only engage parents as collaborative partners while they receive services, but it should also prepare parents to be effective partners with special services they encounter as their child grows older” (p. 168). Early intervention providers can influence caregivers’ views on the special services system and collaboration with professionals. Strengthening caregivers’ view of working with professionals and advocating as crucial team members can yield positive interactions for years to come. This is especially important when working with families whose children may need services beyond early intervention.
As providers strengthen their skills in these six areas, strong collaborative relationships can be built with families. These relationships can then serve as a means through which a child grows and achieves positive outcomes.
Blue-Banning, M., Summers, J. A., Corine Frankland, H., Nelson, L. L., & Beegle, G. (2004). Dimensions of family and professional partnerships: Constructive guidelines for collaboration. Exceptional Children, 70(2), 167–184. https://doi.org/10.1177/001440290407000203
Davies, K. E., Marshall, J., Brown, L. J., & Goldbart, J. (2017). Co-working: Parents’ conception of roles in supporting their children’s speech and language development. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 33(2), 171–185. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265659016671169
Kriston, E. (2017, December 12). Nine Tips for Building Relationships in Early Intervention [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.medbridgeeducation.com/blog/2017/12/9-tips-building-relationships-early-intervention/
This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, onTwitter, and YouTube.