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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 5, Lesson 3

Characteristics of the Early Intervention Community System

The Early Steps system is composed of many organizations and agencies. Each has its own culture, complete with a mission and rules and restrictions about what it can and cannot do. In order to work effectively in the system, we must understand what the culture and rules are for all the community agencies with which we come in contact. It's important to know how an organization works in order to be able to work effectively with it.

Reflect for a moment. How someone in Early Steps views a family may be very different than how someone from Child Protective Services views that same family. Workers from both agencies may want to maximize outcomes for that family. Because of their differing perspectives, mission, and rules and regulations, the ITDS and the Child Protective Services caseworker may interact differently with the family and view positive outcomes very differently. For instance, the ITDS may be viewed as a support by the family. He/she may feel the family has made positive progress in embedding motor activities into their ERAP. The Child Protective Services caseworker, on the other hand, may be viewed in a more negative perspective by the family who may fear the child's removal from the home. The caseworker may consider the family hasn't made any progress if his/her goal is for the father to become employed and that hasn't occurred. Each would have a different idea on whether that family was "successful". The key to good collaboration with other professionals is to find the common ground from which you can all work together. You need to work hard to make sure your own frame of reference doesn't interfere with collaboration and good communication.

As discussed in Lesson 2, all the different organizations and agencies that work within Early Steps, with their varying perspectives and missions, are also part of that system and are viewed in a larger context by the family as "the early intervention system". So, in addition to understanding our unique differences, we must also recognize our commonality within the larger context. This is illustrated during legislative sessions where you might see two very different organizations working together to procure funding for infants and toddlers with disabilities. The families and the children with disabilities are what bind different organizations together.

Culture Differences

child petting horse Different cultures value different attributes in individuals and in the culture. These attributes or value orientations usually exist along a continuum, from individualism to collectivism (Friend & Cook, 2003). This was explained in detail in Lesson 2. As a quick review, individualistic cultures place emphasis on individual goals, personal achievements, fulfillment, and competition. Collectivistic cultures value interdependence and the cohesion of the group. Differences occur in many arenas of everyday life - communication, social interactions, family life style, child rearing techniques, etc. The United States is viewed as an individualistic culture, while most of the world's cultures and most immigrant groups in America are more collectivistic. We need to think about this, not only when we are working with families, but also when working with our professional peers. What are their cultural backgrounds and how does this affect our communication?


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