Samantha Ruggiero is a passionate Family Service Coordinator (FSC) who helps parents and caregivers navigate Delaware’s Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. With her expertise, families find a steady hand to lean on during times of growth and change. Meet the heart behind the guidance as we dive in and explore the role of FSCs, evaluations, and the incredible support that awaits families on this journey.
Role of an FSC
What is an FSC, and what part do they play in the Birth to Three EI program?
Family Service Coordinators are an integral part of the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program as well as the family’s multidisciplinary team. FSCs assist families in developing an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), which outlines what the family wants and needs in order to help their child. FSCs ensure that families are aware of their rights throughout the early intervention process, and they empower families to make informed decisions regarding their child’s plan. They collaborate with therapists, pediatricians, educators, psychologists, and community programs to connect families to supports and resources that will best serve them.
How did you become a Family Service Coordinator? Tell us a little about your background.
I initially went to college with hopes of becoming a therapist. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I worked as a group therapy coordinator for adolescents who struggled with mental health and substance use challenges. Though I enjoyed the experience, I found myself wanting to be more hands-on in the helping process, which is why I began looking into a career as a Family Service Coordinator. My current role as an FSC is just what I was looking for. It allows me to be more direct and participatory in my clients’ journey by taking a holistic approach.
What is your favorite part of being an FSC?
My favorite part of being an FSC is helping the families I serve in any way that I can. I encourage parents and caregivers to reach out to me with any questions or concerns they may have, and I am always more than happy to make time to speak with them. Making myself accessible gives the opportunity to build rapport while also showing families that they can depend on me as their FSC.
Evaluation & Eligibility
What is the process for getting a child evaluated for a Birth to Three program?
The process for having a child evaluated by the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program is simple. Parents, caregivers, and pediatricians can contact our main intake phone number, New Castle County: 302-283-7240 or Kent & Sussex Counties: 302-424-7300, to submit a referral if they have concerns with a child’s development. They will speak with an intake specialist who will gather basic information about the child. The referral will then be assigned to a Family Service Coordinator who will contact the family to introduce themselves, discuss the early intervention process, and review program consent forms. If the family wishes to move forward with an evaluation, the Family Service Coordinator will contact the family to schedule the child’s evaluation once they receive the signed program consent forms from the family.
If determined eligible, am I required to enroll my child? If I say no, can I refer again at a later date?
After an evaluation is performed by a licensed professional, a child can be determined eligible or ineligible for Birth to Three Early Intervention Program Services. If a child is determined eligible, families are not required to enroll their child into the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Families also have the option to re-refer their child at a later date as long as it’s before the child’s third birthday. After the child’s third birthday, the family can refer to their local school district to address any developmental concerns they have.
What should parents expect during the evaluation and assessment process, and how can they cope with the uncertainty of the results?
Although some people may use “evaluation” and “assessment” interchangeably, they are two different facets of the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. During the evaluation, which will take place in the child’s natural environment, such as home or childcare, families can expect the evaluators to ask questions about the child’s development while observing and interacting with the child. Once the evaluation is completed, the evaluators will inform the family and the Family Service Coordinator (FSC) of the child’s eligibility. If the child is determined eligible for the program and the family wishes to move forward with the early intervention process, the family and FSC will hold an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting. During the IFSP meeting, the family and FSC will review the child’s evaluation report and complete a family-directed assessment. The assessment will be conducted by the FSC to identify the family’s resources and concerns as well as the support and services necessary to improve the family’s capability to meet their child’s developmental needs. If the family is feeling uncertain about the results of the evaluation and/or assessment, they are encouraged to express that to their FSC so that they can be supported. Their FSC may also refer them to Delaware Family Voices or Family SHADE for additional support and guidance.
What is the most common myth families and caregivers have about Birth to Three programs?
The most common myth that families have about the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program is that we only evaluate the area(s) of development that the family has concerns about. Our multidisciplinary evaluation looks at five developmental areas – cognition, receptive and expressive language, fine and gross motor, social-emotional, and adaptive. By evaluating those domains, we can get a clearer picture of the child’s development.
Support & Challenges
How can parents and caregivers support their child’s development at home?
Once a child is being seen by a therapist, the therapist will coach the caregivers on activities and strategies that should be implemented throughout the week to support their child’s development. Therefore, it is imperative that caregivers follow through with their therapist’s recommendations.
How can parents and caregivers identify developmental delays in their children?
There are several resources available to help families identify developmental delays in their child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Developmental Milestones checklist is a tool that families can use to track the progress of the way their child learns, plays, acts, moves, and speaks. The Ages & Stages Questionnaires (ASQ) is a screener that is designed to accurately identify developmental delays in children. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT) is a screener that is used to assess indicators for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What are some common challenges families may face with Birth to Three, and how can they be addressed?
Because our program works with children in their natural environment, such as home or childcare, some families may find it challenging to secure services that accommodate their schedules. In such cases, they are encouraged to share that concern with their FSC so that their FSC can find a service provider/therapist that fits within the family’s availability.
Early Intervention & Services
What if I don’t fully understand the early intervention process or terminology? How can an FSC help me understand and feel more confident?
If a family does not fully understand the early intervention process or terminology, they are encouraged to reach out to their FSC to ask for clarification or further information. Because the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program is family-driven, it is very important for families to have a grasp on the process and terminology. The family’s FSC will be more than happy to explain things in a way that is comprehensible. Understanding the early intervention process allows families to feel empowered – and therefore confident – about their decisions regarding their child’s development.
How much input do I have as a parent throughout the B23 evaluation, IFSP, and B23 programming?
Parents have a lot of input throughout the Birth to Three Early Intervention process! In fact, the family’s wants and needs are what drive the process. The FSC is there to educate, empower, and support the family as they make informed decisions about their child’s IFSP.
What kinds of EI services are available to eligible children?
A wide variety of services are available to eligible children, such as speech therapy, physical therapy, early childhood educators, and more.
Can you explain how services are determined for a child?
When the family and FSC meet to create the child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), they will review the results of the child’s evaluation report, discuss the family’s concerns and priorities, and consider additional information that may have been gathered from medical records. The FSC will then ask the parent(s) about goals that they have for their child. The family’s concerns, goals, and priorities determine the services that are most necessary for their child. Because the IFSP is a fluid document, services can change as the family’s concerns, goals, and priorities change.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about B23 programming, early intervention, or being an FSC?
Inability to pay for services will not impact a child’s services. FSCs should speak with parents and caregivers about the payment policy during their first meeting. It is also important to note that the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program is a voluntary program, and consent can be withdrawn at any time.
Are there any additional resources available to families in Delaware if their child does not qualify for Birth to Three resources, or does not choose to enroll in programming?
Absolutely! If a child is not eligible for Birth to Three resources, or if the family does not choose to enroll in the program, families can pursue services from early intervention providers with their public or private health insurance. Families may also contact the Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC) or Parents as Teachers (PAT), as they are both resources for caregivers who have concerns with their child’s growth and development. Additionally, dialing 2-1-1 on a mobile device will connect families to personnel that provide information on essential resources throughout Delaware.
“I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious about my child’s developmental delays. How can an FSC support me through this process?”
If a family is feeling overwhelmed and anxious about their child’s developmental delays, the FSC can assist the family by identifying supportive people or agencies that the family can reach out to in times of distress. The FSC can also refer the family to Delaware Family Voices, which is a non-profit organization that consists of parents who have shared similar concerns and experiences.
A Family Service Coordinator plays an important role in guiding us through this journey of growth. Their dedication to empowering families and aiding children’s development creates a strong foundation for success! For more information about Delaware’s B23 program, click here.