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Early Transitions for Children and Families:
Transitions from Infant/Toddler Services to Preschool Education
The ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E581
Author: Marci J. Hanson
Transitions for young children can occur at a number of points: as the child moves from the
hospital to the family's home, from care in the home to infant/toddler early intervention services,
from infant/toddler services to preschool education, and from preschool to kindergarten and
elementary school. For purposes of this discussion, transitions are identified as "points of change
in services and personnel who coordinate and provide services" (Rice &O'Brien, 1990, p. 2).
While all children experience transitions in their early years, children with developmental
challenges and their families may experience more frequent and more intense transitions in
necessary services. These transitions may be stressful for families. Family concerns during this
process are heightened by changes in friendship ties and service delivery systems as the child
moves from more home-based and family-focused services to more center-based and
child-focused services (Hains, Rosenkoetter, & Fowler, 1991).
This digest focuses on a crucial early transition for children with disabilities: the transition from
infant/toddler services (during which the child and family may or may not have participated in
early intervention services) to preschool education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) provides regulation and funding to states for infant/toddler services to children with
disabilities from birth through age 2 under Part C and from age 3 through 21 under Part B, so this
transition may represent a different funding and regulation authority as well as a move to a
different agency or service delivery location.
The ideal transition process is one which is a "carefully planned, outcome-oriented process,
initiated by the primary service provider, who establishes and implements a written,
multi-agency service plan for each child moving to a new program (McNulty 1989, p.159).
Unfortunately, the transition experiences of many families do not meet this ideal.
Transitions are crucial times for decision making about children's services. Wolery (1989)
suggests that the transition process should ensure service continuity, reduce family disruptions,
prepare children for their program placements, and meet legal requirements. Collaboration
between professionals and families and the roles of the child's family, the sending and receiving
teachers, other personnel, and service agencies are crucial to a successful transition process.
Successful transitions promote "(a) placement decisions that meet individual needs, (b)
uninterrupted services, (c) non-confrontational and effective models of advocacy that families
can emulate throughout their children's lives (d) avoidance of duplication in assessment and goal
planning, and (e) reduced stress for children, families, and service providers" (Shotts,
Rosenkoetter, Streufert, & Rosenkoetter, 1994, p. 395-396).
Transition Issues: What Influences the Process?
A substantial body of literature addresses transition processes, although few studies have
examined the transition for children from infant/toddler services to preschool education.
However, issues have been identified that highlight particular considerations for this
These issues include the shift from one service system or agency to another, differences in
eligibility requirements for services, new demands for child participation, differing expectations
for child behavior and "readiness," new types and levels of staff involvement and training, and
philosophical shifts in intervention models (Fowler, Hains, & Rosenkoetter, 1990; Hains et al.,
1988; Shotts et al., 1994).
Strategies: What Are Essential Elements for Success?
Research findings underscore the importance of collaboration as influential and essential in the
transition process. Collaboration between professionals, and between families and professionals,
may take many forms and may occur at different levels (Rosenkoetter, Hains, & Fowler,
Strategies must be adapted to address different types of services and systems and meet the needs
of the range of children and families served in terms of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, and
socio-economic backgrounds. A description of effective strategies identified in the literature
- Interagency issues and policies. Since children often receive services from different
agencies during transition, interagency coordination and cross agency linkages are crucial. These
linkages establish lines of responsibility and coordinate all facets of the process including
child-find, referral and assessment, eligibility requirements, Individualized Family Service Plan
(IFSP)/Individualized Education Program (IEP) processes, and follow-up and evaluation services
(Fowler et al., 1990; Rosenkoetter et al., 1994; Rous, Hemmeter, & Schuster, 1994; Shotts et
al.,1994). The IFSP must include steps to support the child's transition at age 3. These steps focus
on discussions related to future placements, information exchange, and transition procedures. An
interagency committee to review and develop policies and procedures can benefit planning (Rous
et al., 1994).
- Preparation, information exchange, and training between ending programs, receiving
programs, and families. Prior to the decision making and meetings about future placement, all
participants (family members and professionals) must have information about the child, family
concerns and priorities (Hains et al., 1991; Shotts et al., 1994). The development of a transition
plan and an established means of communication between families, sending professionals, and
professionals in the receiving program facilitates the transition process (Hains et al., 1991;
Rosenkoetter et al., 1994).
- Family support. Information should be provided to families in formats that match the
needs of the family (written vs. oral, group vs. individual, video), include opportunities for
program visitation, and include options for supplemental services (Rous et al., 1994).
- Child preparation. Several efforts have focused on assessing and teaching the skills needed
by the child in the next environment (Byrd & Rous, 1991; Rous et al., 1994). These skills focus
primarily on social-behavioral goals and functional skills for participating in the daily routine of
the receiving preschool program. They include learning classroom rules, self-management
related to activities such as eating and taking care of one's needs, and communicating one's own
needs as well as communicating effectively with adults and peers in the program.
- Staff training and collaboration. The training of personnel providing infant/toddler services
may differ from those providing preschool services, which necessitates coordination and
preparation (Fowler et al., 1990).Transition team training for parents and professionalshelps to
ensure more successful transitions (Rous et al., 1994).
Findings of the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion (ECRII)
Recent descriptive research from the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion (ECRII), a
five-year multi-university federally funded research project, examined the transition process as
children moved from Part C services to Part B services (Hanson, 1998; Hanson, Horn, &
Brennan, 1997). The study focused on family choices and decision making and the service
delivery opportunities for inclusive placements. Families and professionals (sending and
receiving teachers, therapists and other related service personnel, service coordinators) were
interviewed and observed during the transition process.
Findings centered on families' and professionals' experiences and perceptions during the
transition process, their expectations and concerns, and factors that affected or influenced the
transition process and outcome. From the families' perspectives, the shift in service delivery
systems (and often agencies) contributed to a challenging process in which they were shifted to
new rules, regulations, types of services, and often agencies. Most families expressed
expectations and concerns that their children receive quality learning/academic experiences,
services for their children's special needs, and opportunities for independence building and social
participation in settings with children without disabilities.
Byrd, M.R., & Rous, B.S. (1991). Helpful entry level skills checklist. Lexington,
KY: Child Development Centers of the Bluegrass.
Fowler, S.A., Hains, A. H., & Rosenkoetter, S. E. (1990). The transition between early
intervention services and preschool services: Administrative and policy issues. Topics in
Early Childhood Special Education, 9(4), 55-65.
Hains, A. H., Rosenkoetter, S. E., & Fowler, S.A. (1991). Transition planning with families in
early intervention programs. Infants and Young Children, 3(4), 38-47.
Hanson, M.J. (1998). Transition from Part C to Part B services. Invited presentation to the
Summit on Inclusion (NEC*TAS), Washington, DC, July 30-31, 1998.
Hanson, M.J., Horn, E., & Brennan, E. (1997). Family perspectives on transitions in preschool
programs: Findings of the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion. Presentation to the
Council for Exceptional Children's Division for Early Childhood, Annual International Early
Childhood Conference on Children with Special Needs, New Orleans, November 1997.
McNulty, B.A. (1989). Leadership and policy strategies for interagency planning: Meeting the
early childhood mandate. In J.J. Gallagher, P.L. Trohanis, & R.M. Clifford (Eds.), Policy
implementation and P.L. 99-457: Planning for young children with special needs (pp. 147-167).
Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Rice, M.L., & O'Brien, M. (1990). Transitions: Times of change and accommodation,
Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 9 (4), 1-14.
Rosenkoetter, S. E., Hains, A. H., & Fowler, S. A. (1994). Bridging early services for children
with special needs and their families. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Rous, B., Hemmeter, M.L., & Schuster, J. (1994). Sequenced transition to education in the
public schools: A systems approach to transition planning. Topics in Early Childhood
Special Education, 14(3), 374-393.
Shotts, C.K., Rosenkoetter, S.E., Streufert, C.A., & Rosenkoetter, L.I. (1994). Transition policy
and issues: A view from the states. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education,
Wolery, M. (1989). Transitions in early childhood special education: Issues and procedures.
Focus on Exceptional Children, 22(2), 1-16.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was
prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0026. The opinions expressed in this
report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of
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