What is an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) for Early Intervention?

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) documents and guides the early intervention process for children with disabilities and their families.

The IFSP is the vehicle through which effective early intervention is implemented in accordance with Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It contains information about the services necessary to facilitate a child’s development and enhance the family’s capacity to facilitate the child’s development.

Through the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as a team to plan, implement, and evaluate services tailored to the family’s unique concerns, priorities, and resources.

According to IDEA, the IFSP shall be in writing and contain statements of:

  1. The child’s present levels of physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development;
  2. The family’s resources, priorities, and concerns relating to enhancing the development of the child with a disability;
  3. The major outcomes to be achieved for the child and the family; the criteria, procedures, and timelines used to determine progress; and whether modifications or revisions of the outcomes or services are necessary;
  4. Specific early intervention services necessary to meet the unique needs of the child and the family, including the frequency, intensity, and the method of delivery;
  5. The natural environments in which services will be provided, including justification of the extent, if any, to which the services will not be provided in a natural environment;
  6. The projected dates for initiation of services and their anticipated duration;
  7. The name of the service provider who will be responsible for implementing the plan and coordinating with other agencies and persons; and
  8. Steps to support the child’s transition to preschool or other appropriate services.

U.S. Department of Education rules (1993) require that non-Part C services needed by a child, including medical and other services, are also described in the IFSP, along with the funding sources for those services. The statute allows parents to be charged for some services. If a family will be charged, this should be noted in the IFSP.

How the IFSP Differs From the IEP

The IFSP differs from the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in several ways:

  • The IFSP revolves around the family, as it is the family that is the constant in a child’s life.
  • It includes outcomes targeted for the family, as opposed to focusing only on the eligible child.
  • It includes the notion of natural environments, which encompass home or community settings such as parks, child care, and gym classes. This focus creates opportunities for learning interventions in everyday routines and activities, rather than only in formal, contrived environments.
  • It includes activities undertaken with multiple agencies beyond the scope of Part C. These are included to integrate all services into one plan.
  • It names a service coordinator to help the family during the development, implementation, and evaluation of the IFSP.

Steps That Lead to Effective IFSPs

Identify Family Concerns, Priorities, and Resources

The family’s concerns, priorities, and resources guide the entire IFSP process. Early intervention should be seen as a system of services and supports available to families to enhance their capacity to care for their children. The notion of partnership between the intervention team and the family must be introduced and nurtured at this beginning point of the IFSP process.

Identify the Family’s Activity Settings

All children develop as the result of their everyday experiences. It is important to document valued, enjoyable routines (bath time, eating, play activities, etc.) and analyze them to see if they offer the sustained engagement that leads to learning opportunities. Likewise, it is important to identify the community activity settings (e.g., child care, Gymboree, swimming) that provide opportunities for learning.