IFSP and IEP: What They Mean to You and Your Child

Both an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP, and an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, are written plans for providing services to children with disabilities. The main difference between them is that an IFSP focuses on the child (up to age 3) and family and the services they need, while an IEP targets the educational needs of preschool and school-aged children.

Individualized Family Service Plan

If you are concerned that your infant or toddler isn't developing as quickly as other children, or you suspect your little one may have a disability, there are early intervention services in many communities that can help. If your child is found to be developmentally delayed or to have a disability, an Individualized Family Service Plan can be developed to address your child's needs. This plan includes:

  • Information on your child's present level of development.
  • Outcomes (goals) for your child and family.
  • Services your child and family will receive to help them reach the outcomes.

An IFSP often brings together several public agencies (such as education, and health and human services) to provide services to your child and family. Services are managed by a coordinator who works with you and the service agencies to make sure your child and family get the help determined in the plan.

You can start the IFSP process by explaining your concerns to your child's pediatrician, who can refer you to an early intervention program for evaluation.

You can find information on stateside early intervention programs through the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and the Center for Parent Information and Resources. If you're overseas, visit your service's website or your local TRICARE military treatment facility for more information on the Education and Developmental Intervention Services Program.

Individualized Education Program

If your child has a disability and is found to be eligible for special education, your school — military or civilian — is required to develop an Individualized Education Program to spell out your child's learning needs, the services the school will provide and how progress will be measured. This program includes information such as:

  • Specific educational and related services your student will receive.
  • Dates for the beginning and end of each service and where and how often services will be provided.
  • Annual goals and specific objectives for reaching those goals.
  • The extent (if any) to which your child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular classroom and other school activities.

As a parent, you are entitled to take part in the process of determining whether your child has a disability and needs special education and an Individualized Education Program. Once in place, the program is reviewed at least once a year to make sure it is meeting your child's needs. And at least every three years, your child is re-evaluated to determine whether he/she continues to have a disability and if services should continue.

Start the process by contacting your child's school and requesting an evaluation. If you are transitioning your child to a new school, please remember to have a hard copy and/or a digital copy of your child's current ISFP/IEP available. When preparing to move, please also consult the Education Directory for Children With Special Needs available through Military OneSource. For more information about moving with an IEP, click here.

Navigating the systems from one educational system to another can be challenging, but military families aren’t alone in this process. Military families can not only visit the EFMP staff at their local Family Support Center for more information and possible resources in their area, but they can also reach out to these available resources:

  • Local education agencies for concerns or questions regarding education issues.
  • Independent groups such as the Partnerships for Action, Voices and Empowerment, or "PAVE."
  • The Parent Center for Information and Resources, which has offices in every state.

In addition, all military families are welcome to speak with Military OneSource special needs consultants. Consultants are licensed professionals with master's degrees and extensive experience in the field of persons with disabilities — including both children and adult family members. They can help identify local resources as well as answer parents' questions and concerns about the care and education of a child with special needs or an adult family member. To schedule a free consultation, parents can call 800-342-9647 or visit the Military OneSource website.

For more about Individualized Education Programs, see the Department of Defense Special Needs Parent Tool Kit: Birth to 18, Module 2: Special Education.

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