The Office of Head Start (OHS) has been a leader in the movement to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood settings. Yours is part of a large network of programs committed to improving outcomes for young children with identified disabilities or suspected delays and their families. As a disability services coordinator, you have a critical role to play in Head Start programs' enduring commitment to this population.
Who should use this guide?
If you are new to the job, the Disability Services Coordinator Orientation Guide provides a foundation for your work. If you are seasoned, it can be used as a refresher course. You might be called an inclusion coordinator or disability/mental health coordinator. You may work under a support services manager, an education coordinator, or the program director. No matter your exact job title or your supervisor, you can learn from this guide.
You come to the role of disability services coordinator with unique experiences, skills, and knowledge. Although Head Start programs share many features, your program is unique in many ways. What works for you and for your program may not be the same for another coordinator or another program. That is fine. Use this guide to support you and your program.
Sections of the guide may be useful to other program staff, including program management, teachers, family advocates, and transportation and health specialists. Mental health consultants and school system staff also can find useful information. Some families may want to read about the processes involved and the service delivery for their children and for themselves. Your program's child care partners and other early childhood programs can use the guide, too.
What is the purpose of this guide?
The Disability Services Coordinator Orientation Guide is anchored in the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS). These are the requirements that apply to all Head Start programs. One regulation is very important to your work. It requires your program to design and implement a coordinated approach that ensures the full and effective participation of all children with disabilities and their families (45 CFR §1302.101(b)(3)).
Use this guide to help your program strengthen its coordinated approach for children with disabilities and their families. Information about program requirements for screening and recruitment is included. It explains the requirements for quality education and health services. Research-based teaching practices also are described. This guide offers guidance for establishing partnerships and ensuring continuity during transitions. Professional development is also highlighted. The guide is designed to inform and help you ensure responsive systems and quality services across the program.
The concept of a coordinated approach is not new to Head Start programs. It is central to the core of building systems and delivering services. What is new is a required coordinated approach as part of your program's management system and continuous improvement efforts. There are many other HSPPS that pertain to children with disabilities and their families. When they are well-implemented, a coordinated approach is in place.
Remember that the overarching mission of OHS is school readiness—to prepare children for success in school and later in life, to prepare schools for children, and to prepare families for engagement in their children's education. The goal for all children in Head Start programs, including those with disabilities, is to be successful learners. This guide can help you, as the disability services coordinator, ensure all children are fully included in every learning opportunity and families are empowered as their advocates.
You have a big job to do as a disability services coordinator, but you are not doing it alone. There is someone there to help you. You work closely with program management, educational staff, family service workers, transportation, and health staff and many others in the program. Parents and families are your partners, too. You also work with early intervention specialists, special educators, and community partners. The combined expertise and experience of all these people can support your efforts.
How is it organized?
This guide is organized into three major sections. There are 13 chapters, followed by a conclusion. The chapters walk you through the tasks and processes of your job as a disability services coordinator.
Part I: The Basics
- Diving into the Coordinated Approach and Legislation
- Building Partnerships
- Recruiting and Enrolling Children
- Screening Children
- Referring and Evaluating Children
Part II: Coordinated Services for Children with Disabilities and Their Families
- Individualizing Teaching and Learning
- Implementing Curriculum and an Inclusive Environment
- Coordinating with Health and Mental Health Program Services
- Coordinating Safety Practices
- Ensuring Smooth Transitions
Part III: Improving Disability Services
- Creating Support for Staff
- Building Support for Yourself
- Improving Your Program's Coordinated Approach
The Appendices include checklists and other materials you can use on the job. Selected resources provide extensive online materials. A Glossary is also included.
Each chapter offers:
- An overview of the coordinated approach and key ideas
- A brief summary of the HSPPS that apply to all children in the program to ground you in the regulations
- Specific regulations that refer to children with disabilities and their families
- Your role and responsibilities as a disability services coordinator
- Relevant elements of your program's partnership agreements
- Tips to support your work
- People to help you
- Questions to discuss with colleagues
- A scenario about how a disability services coordinator takes action to strengthen an inclusive, coordinated approach in a Head Start program
How is this guide used?
You can read this guide from beginning to end, or you may choose to focus on the sections that interest you. You can also start by reviewing the content and making a plan to revisit the chapters that are most relevant. You might decide to look across all the chapters and pull out the tips and people to help you. You and your colleagues may opt to incorporate all or part of this guide into professional development activities based on staff interest and needs.
This guide is intended to make your coordinator's job easier. Use it to ensure you are keeping an eye on all of the many pieces that help ensure a coordinated approach. Each chapter dives into the details of some piece of the coordinated approach. When put together, the guide provides the "big picture" of what you need to do to best serve children with disabilities and their families.
In Head Start, we always put the child first; the disabilities are second. We refer to a child with a disability, not a disabled child. We keep our focus on what the child can do!
The Disability Services Coordinator Orientation Guide is designed to help your program provide high-quality services for children with disabilities and their families. It is anchored in the HSPPS, specifically the regulation requiring a program-wide coordinated approach "to ensure full and effective participation of all children with disabilities, including but not limited to children eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)" (45 CFR §1302.101(b)(3)).
The HSPPS regulation further states that a program must provide "services with appropriate facilities, program materials, curriculum, instruction, staffing, supervision, and partnerships, at a minimum, consistent with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)." Such federal legislation is a foundation for the disability services in your program.
For your program to implement this regulation, program services and systems need to be integrated. How do the hiring procedures, budget, and community partnerships intersect with the education, health, and transportation services? They need to work together to create a program-wide inclusive environment.
What is IDEA? It is a federal law that ensures that eligible children with disabilities have access to free and appropriate public education as well as necessary special education services.
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning
Audience: Disability Services Coordinators
Last Updated: December 5, 2023