Navigating Disagreements with Early Intervention

By Magda Labonté and Eliyanna Kaiser

Getting an Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP) for an infant or toddler isn’t usually as contentious as the process for preschool and school-age children can sometimes be, but there are times when a parent strongly disagrees with something Early Intervention (EI) decides or when a child experiences an unacceptable gap in services. 

Our office represents parents who are at loggerheads with EI. It can be valuable to consult with an attorney while considering the best strategy for exercising your due process rights. Some tactics may produce better outcomes.

A common problem we are asked about arises when a parent disagrees with a proposed IFSP (in part or whole). We also hear from many parents about unacceptable delays in the provision of services (no more than 30 calendar days after signing consent to initiate is the law). Other situations that pop up include when a child needs a new service that EI is refusing to provide; when an IFSP provides for a service, but not enough of it; or when a parent’s request to modify an IFSP in some other way is denied.

In all of these situations, the first step is to express your concerns to your service coordinator. They may be able to resolve some problems.  If your service coordinator isn’t responsive, or you don’t feel they are doing their job properly, you can switch service coordinators (and agencies) at any time. You also have the right to file a “system complaint” against your service coordinator and anyone else who works for EI, including service providers, evaluators, and the Early Intervention Official (administrator) assigned to your child’s case. For more information, see the NYS Department of Health’s publication, Early Intervention Steps: A Parent’s Basic Guide to the Early Intervention Program.

There are, of course, some problems that even the most dedicated service coordinator will be unable to fix. In those situations, you have due process rights. You have both the right to request mediation or to file an impartial hearing request. If you retain an attorney, you will not be able to recover legal fees unless you go through mediation first. 

Some parents decide to privately obtain services through independent providers and then file an impartial hearing request seeking reimbursement. Lawyers may recommend that parents obtain private evaluations to support their claims in these (and other) cases. 

Early Intervention is designed to provide services at a time when your child will receive a tremendous benefit. Don’t let disagreements interfere with this; this critical period will be over in the blink of an eye.