COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Services for Children with Disabilities or Suspected Delays

Ongoing communication is critical to keeping parents and families informed about program- and school-related information during remote service delivery. It can ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone. Parents and families who have a child with a disability may have additional concerns and questions about their child's development. Find suggestions and resources to support education staff, children with disabilities, and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporting Families When Developmental Concerns Arise

Having conversations with families about child development and the importance of screening is critical during this time. Some families may have concerns and not know who to talk to or what to do. Teachers, home visitors, and disability services coordinators can provide families with resources, share observations, and connect with the appropriate services to address any concerns as soon as possible.

The National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at CDC developed the Concerned about your Child’s Development resource, offering the following recommendations:

  1. Complete a Milestone Checklist
  2. Ask about developmental screening
  3. Ask for a referral for children 0 – 3 years old, or for children 3 years old or older.

These resources are also helpful when addressing developmental concerns with families:

Supporting Families of Children with Disabilities from a Distance

Disability services staff should connect with service providers to support continuity of early intervention, special education, and related services for children with disabilities and their families, as appropriate. Once information is gathered from service providers, disability services and education staff can reach out to families with additional supports. While distance learning and teletherapy opportunities provide some consistency and continuity, those experiences may or may not be possible depending on internet access and location.

Strategies to Help Families Support Their Child's Progress from Home

Encourage families to support their child's learning during daily home activities. Start with one or two small goals that are easy to embed into everyday routines, such as mealtime, outdoors, and reading. This approach will ease the burden on families who may feel the need to plan and implement lessons at home. Be sure to ask families what they want to address most and where they believe they need the most support.

  • Validate all of the things parents are already doing every day to support their child's progress, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
  • Share simple tip sheets and resources (e.g., via phone screenshot, email, mail, reading off tips while they write them down). Examples:
  • Offer a couple of suggestions per week. Keep it simple so families do not feel overwhelmed or guilty that they aren't doing more to support their child. For example:
    • Suggest families try using a "first-then" schedule:
      • "First we'll read a book, then you can play on the tablet."
      • "First get dressed, then we can watch a show together."
      • "First I need a break, then I can help you."
    • Individualize for each family based on their needs and the needs of their child.
  • Send links to helpful videos and online resources related to the child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals.
  • Suggest that caregivers reach out to trusted friends and family members via phone or online video calls to spend time with children. This can include working on IFSP or IEP goals that don't require physical prompting.
  • Mail simple instructional materials home and then follow up with a phone call to discuss how things are going and how families might use the materials (e.g., visual supports or schedule).
  • Coordinate a pick-up/drop-off location to swap materials with families while ensuring a safe distance.

Connect families with a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). These centers offer a variety of direct services for children with disabilities, families, professionals, and other organizations that support them.

Additional Resources