Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)


An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a written document that provides the foundation for intervention for children with disabilities or at risk for having a substantial delay, aged birth through three years, and their families. The IFSP should be a broad portrait of what is desirable for the child and family. It should specify all the services that are needed by the family and the child and who will provide the service.

The authorization for the IFSP is through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), formally the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA). PL 94-142, the EHA, passed in 1975 by the U.S. Congress, was amended in 1983 through PL 98-199 to provide financial incentives to states to expand services for children from birth to three years and their families. Eleven years after the original EHA, Part H of PL 99-457 (1986), also known as the Early Intervention Amendments to PL 94-142, supported services to all infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with a disability or at risk of having a substantial delay and required the development of an IFSP for each child/family served. In 1990, the EHA laws under PL 101-476 were renamed IDEA. The term “handicapped” was replaced with “disabled” and services were expanded. Part H, which addresses early intervention services, became Part C under IDEA. Part C describes the most current required components of the IFSP.

Children and families are identified through a mandated child find system, which is the responsibility of each state’s designated lead agency for Early Intervention (EI) services. Primary referral sources are hospitals, including prenatal and postnatal facilities; physicians; parents; child-care programs; local education agencies; public health facilities, other social service agencies; and other health care providers.

Each state has an EI program, which is responsible for delivering IFSP services. EI eligibility is determined through a timely, comprehensive evaluation of the needs of the child and family and the current level of functioning. If found eligible, the IFSP is developed by a transdisciplinary team including the family, EI providers, other specialists, and individuals invited by the family. The IFSP includes specific components such as initial and periodic multidisciplinary assessments, a description of the strengths of the child and family, a statement of the current level of performance, measurable child and family goals, articulation of the frequency, duration, and method of service delivery, and a description of appropriate transition services when a child leaves EI or the IFSP is terminated. While there are similarities to an IEP, the plan for educational services for children aged 3-21 years, a major difference is that the IFSP is family centered and includes information and goals about the family as well as the child. Additionally, the IFSP names a service coordinator, includes a statement describing the natural environments (playgrounds, child care, library) in which early intervention services will be received, and includes activities undertaken with multiple agencies. The IFSP is intended to be a dynamic, flexible document that must be revised per iodically and is supportive to families and envisions children in the natural inclusion environments within their communities.

Challenges in providing IFSPs include identifying children and families in need of services, insuring adequate funding to support the children who have identified disabilities as well as children at risk, providing services in natural settings, scheduling home visits or service delivery, intensity of services, program models, recruiting qualified staff, insuring that children’s strengths as well as their needs are addressed, writing objectives in easily understood jargon-free language, insuring family needs are included in the IFSP, including technology needs, and transitioning children and families from an IFSP to an individualized education plan (IEP).

Further Readings: Bruder, Mary Beth (December 2000). The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC) Digest #E605, The Council for Exceptional Children. Available online at; Florian, Lani (Fall 1995). Part H Early Intervention Program: Legislative history and intent of the law. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 15(3), 247-262; Gallagher, James (Spring 2000). The beginnings of federal help for young children with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 20(1), 3-6; Sandall, Susan, Mary Louise Hemmeter, Barbara J. Smith, and Mary E. McLean (2004). DEC (Division for Early Childhood) Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood. A publication of the Council for Exceptional Children; Wright, Peter W. D., and Pamela Dorr (1999). Wrightslaw: Special Education Law. Hartfield, VA: Harbor House Law Press.

Maryann O’Brien