Disability Services Coordinator Orientation Guide

Ensuring Smooth Transitions

"More than anything, I want my child to continue to learn in kindergarten and on and on. Even though she has a lot of issues, all that support in her Head Start program is what made the difference. I'm going to make sure that she has everything she needs to be successful in school." – Parent of a child with an IEP

This chapter shares effective and responsive ways to provide continuity of services as children transition into new settings, different programs, or kindergarten. As a disability services coordinator, you work closely with program staff, partners, and families to help children with identified or suspected disabilities navigate transitions. Programs must use a coordinated approach, because there are many pieces to put in place as children move from:

  • Early Head Start to Head Start
  • Preschool to kindergarten
  • IDEA Part C services to Part B services
  • One program setting, classroom, or service provider to another

All of these transitions bring new relationships, routines, and environments. A coordinated approach makes transitions smooth and effective for children and their families. Your goals are to provide continuity of services and support the growth that children have made in their Head Start or Early Head Start program.

Kids eating breakfast at schoolKey Ideas

  • Families of children with disabilities1 have a critical role in the transition process, as mandated in IDEA and the HSPPS. They drive planning to ensure their child receives appropriate services.
  • Smooth transitions between programs and into schools help children with disabilities maintain their developmental progress and reduce families' stress.
  • Programs incorporate support for cultural and linguistic diversity into transition services.
  • Partners and programs need to communicate effectively during transition planning.
  • Professional development, including joint activities with early intervention providers, special educators, and the LEA,2 promotes smooth transitions.
  • A coordinated approach for transition planning involves families and team members across systems and service areas.

What are transition services in Head Start programs?

Changes in service delivery can be challenging for children and families when they're accustomed to the services they have previously received. When programs do advanced, individualized planning, it makes transitions easier.

45 CFR §1302 Subpart G – Transition Services requires programs to implement strategies and practices to support successful transitions for children and their families. Programs must collaborate with families by providing information about the child's progress and strategies to work with the new program. It is important for programs and families to communicate with receiving programs or schools so they can facilitate continuity of learning and development. These requirements apply to all transitions from Early Head Start and Head Start, Head Start to kindergarten, and between programs.

HSPPS Related to Transitions

In addition, there are specific requirements about transitions from:

  • Early Head Start to Head Start
    • Plan at least six months before the child's third birthday
    • Transition as soon as possible after the child's third birthday
    • Work with Head Start to maximize enrollment transitions for eligible children
  • Head Start to kindergarten
    • Prepare parents and family to exercise their rights and responsibilities about their child's education
    • Collaborate with LEAs about transferring records, staff communication, joint training, and participation in summer programs
    • Create learning environments and activities to familiarize children with kindergarten
  • Between programs
    • Help families find Head Start, Early Head Start, or other early childhood programs

The HSPPS at 45 CFR §1302 Subpart F – Additional Services for Children with Disabilities include additional requirements for transitional services for children who are IDEA-eligible. For children with an IFSP who are transitioning out of an Early Head Start program, a transition plan that outlines the steps for the child's transition is part of the IFSP. The program must collaborate with the parents and family and with the local agency responsible for IDEA to determine the child's eligibility for Part B. The agency must write an IEP for specialized services to continue past the child's third birthday.

For children with an IEP who are leaving a Head Start program for kindergarten, a program must collaborate with the parents and family and with the agency responsible for implementing IDEA to support the child and family.

Keep a copy of the IFSP or IEP for the duration of the child's enrollment in the Head Start or Early Head Start program to provide information during the transition process. Be sure to observe any confidentiality requirements.

Planning for Partnerships

Transition planning involves working closely with the Parts C and B local agencies, other community partners, and staff in your program. To build partnerships around transitions:

  • Include specific steps for planning the transition with families
  • Develop a communication protocol so partners share information about the programs, children, and families
  • Exchange data about children between sending and receiving programs, ensuring parental consent and confidentiality when necessary
  • Specify language supports for children with disabilities who also are DLLs

What is your role in transition services?

As the disability services coordinator, you are a key player in transition planning. The goal is to maintain each child's progress during transitions by keeping services as consistent as possible and empowering families to advocate for their children with disabilities. Collaboration and communication are key to successful transitions for children with disabilities and their families.

Your program may have a transitions team in place, composed of program staff and partners. If not, work with program management to consider establishing a transitions team. Some of the key players and tasks may include:

  • Family services coordinator to ensure the family plans a process that works for them; consider interpretation or translation services, if necessary
  • Education manager, a child's teacher, or home visitor to ensure information about effective teaching and learning strategies and about the child's progress is current
  • Health manager to support children with disabilities and special healthcare needs
  • Transportation manager, if a child with disabilities receives support on the bus

Little girl raising her handYou manage the relationship with Part B special educators and Part C early intervention partners as children transition. The transition for children eligible for IDEA services under Part C in Early Head Start to Part B in the Head Start program includes programmatic changes. After the child's third birthday, the early interventionists under Part C will likely be replaced by special educators from the school system. The child who is moving out of an Early Head Start program enters a new classroom setting with new staff and some, if not all, new children. There can be many transitions that the child and family need to navigate. Help families understand the expectations of the preschool setting. Be sure the IFSP and any other treatment and behavioral plans are passed on.

The transition from a Head Start program into kindergarten is a big step for most children with disabilities and their families. Under IDEA, schools must educate children with disabilities in the LRE. Even though schools are organized differently and may not offer the comprehensive services that Head Start programs do, they have inclusive settings. Schools may offer a continuum of special education settings ranging from inclusion to self-contained programs to ensure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled.

The decision-making process about placement and service options in kindergarten is a joint effort between the IEP team and the family. As the disability lead, you and the child's Head Start teacher or home visitor will be involved in these decisions. If a child has a Section 504 Plan, a Child Action Plan, or a health plan, partner with the parents and family and other specialists to discuss the transition. In many cases, you will advocate the child's placement and services to be provided in an inclusive setting, similar to the child's experience in the Head Start program. Be prepared to explain what inclusion practices worked well and why. Also, identify challenges so the new school or program can be ready to address them. Many LEAs provide summer classes before children go into kindergarten. If your Head Start program doesn't operate in the summer, this may be an opportunity for children with disabilities to be with same-age peers. Explore whether this option exists for children in your program.

As part of your work, update—or at least review—the current interagency MOU with the local agency responsible for implementing IDEA. Ensure the transition services the child receives are appropriate and adequate.

Help families advocate for inclusive practices. Connect them with the Parent Training and Information Center in their state.

Supporting Families

When children transition, they need to form new relationships with adults and other children. The new learning environment may have different rules and routines, materials, and assistive devices, even different child-staff ratios. It will take time for children with disabilities to get used to the new setting. It will also take time for their families to adjust.

When helping a child and family transition to new services and programs, you:

  • Support the family to make sure evaluations and decisions about eligibility for an IEP are timely and appropriate
  • Partner with families to minimize changes in services during re-evaluation
  • Meet with the family to understand what they anticipate and help them prepare
  • Gather child records and other information that will be helpful to the transition team
  • Ensure current and receiving partners have accurate and relevant information
During the transition process, partner with all interested family members, including nonresidential parents and family members. When you work together, families are affirmed as lifelong educators and advocates for their children.

Use the following strategies to promote family engagement and advocacy for children with disabilities who are transitioning to a new program or kindergarten.

  • Help families keep the focus on their child's best interests. There may be a lot of information and different points of view to consider.
  • Make sure families have the information they need to make decisions about the transition.
  • Answer families' questions about services. What is going to change? What is going to be the same?
  • Provide families with written information about services in the school system.
  • Build a connection with the receiving school. Schedule meet-and-greets and visits. Connect families to parent-teacher associations and encourage family engagement.
  • Help families advocate for culturally and linguistically appropriate plans for their child.

Your goal is to help families outline what they expect from preschool or kindergarten special education services and advocate for supports that will ensure their child's success in the new setting.

Working with the Larger Team

Work closely with staff, agency partners, and families to plan transitions for children with disabilities. Ideally, they are members of an established transitions team in your program.

You do a lot to help ensure stakeholders have what they need, such as:

  • Coordinate meetings, communications, and other support activities
  • Ensure the exchange of child data
  • Monitor the process
  • Minimize any disruptions in services
  • Advocate for inclusion

Know the timeframes and the tasks.

  • Six months before the child's third birthday, begin planning for the transition from Early Head Start to Head Start or another early childhood program. Include visits to and from receiving programs. Comply with legal requirements for the transition between Part C and Part B. Use the transition plan in the IFSP.
  • Allow enough time to manage plans between your program, special education partners, and LEAs.
  • Keep in mind that the receiving program or kindergarten should be ready to implement the IEP on the first day the child enters.
Explore a variety of transition resources on the ECLKC. These will help you develop and strengthen partnerships between your Head Start and receiving schools. You can tailor them for your community. Find useful materials for planning transition to kindergarten activities.

Tips to Support Effective Transitions for Children with Disabilities

  • Review transition policies and procedures in your program. Make sure they support inclusive practices. Family engagement is a priority.
  • Develop information packets for families and stakeholders. Share information from your program and early intervention and special education partners.
  • Communicate frequently with the receiving program or school. It helps if you and program administrators clarify expectations and identify challenges in advance.
  • Revise interagency agreements and MOUs as needed. It is important to update formal agreements with the local agencies responsible for implementing IDEA Parts B and C to ensure continuity for children and families.
  • Advocate for the LRE for preschoolers. Consider the advantages of a general education placement that offers the LRE. What supports need to be in place for successful inclusion? How can the child meet goals in the LRE? Share the successful supports and modifications that have been used in the Head Start program.
  • Advocate for early intervention services in the natural environment for infants and toddlers. What supports do family child care, center-, or home-visiting programs need? What supports do families need?

Little girl using walking supportPeople to Help You

  • Family services staff
  • Education manager
  • Teachers and home visitors who work with the children and with parents and family
  • Health manager
  • Transportation manager
  • Data manager
  • Program administrators
  • Early intervention specialists
  • Special educators with the LEA
  • Mental health consultant
  • Staff in receiving programs or schools, such as principals or kindergarten teachers
  • Parents and families

Questions to Ask Your Colleagues

  • What options does the receiving program or school offer? How can we make full inclusion an option?
  • What is the transition from an Early Head Start to Head Start program like for families? For children with disabilities? For staff? Are we doing everything we can to ensure a smooth start in a new program?
  • How effective is our current transition process for children with disabilities? When does it start? Who is involved? What are some of the strengths and challenges?
  • What do our families and children say about the transition process?
  • What supports do our families receive during the process? Have they asked for additional support?
  • What lessons can we learn from the successful transitions of children with disabilities? How can we use these lessons to ease transitions for all children?

Kid glueing class projectScenario

Sydney Street Head Start and one of its receiving elementary schools have a strong partnership. At the beginning of the school year, the disability services coordinator, Mohammed, and the principal want to take a closer look at the transition process for children with disabilities. They also want to learn more about each educational setting and services. They plan monthly meetings with the core transitions team: the Head Start director, teachers, other interested Head Start staff, and special educators from the school system. Parents and family members are also invited.

At these meetings, they discuss a number of important issues, such as plans for joint training opportunities, transportation, and supports for children who are DLLs. The team puts forward several suggestions to ease the transition and improve specialized services. Teachers in both settings—and parents, too—are concerned about the prevalence of social and emotional issues in young children. The team decides to plan joint teacher training on mental health issues and strategies to address them. The school specialists and the Head Start program's mental health consultant will take the lead. A local mental health clinic will offer information sessions for parents.

The partners agree to offer a summer program in the receiving school for children with disabilities who transition to kindergarten in the fall. The children are dually enrolled. The Head Start program provides the classrooms, dental screenings, and support services to families, along with meals and snacks. The school district provides the teachers and paraprofessionals, which helps the children and families make connections to their new teachers.

The summer program ensures children have learning experiences with their typically developing peers, as much as they will when they start kindergarten. All the children will have a chance to meet some of their future classmates and teachers. It's a win-win; both partners are invested in a smooth transition for the children with disabilities and their families.

The partners revise the interagency MOU to reflect their new responsibilities and tasks.

1 In this guide, the term children with disabilities refers also to children with suspected delays, unless stated otherwise.

2 The LEA is a public entity—usually a school district—responsible for the evaluation and determination of a child’s eligibility for IDEA services.