About FamilyLink.
Dispute Resolution Strategies
In Early Intervention

It is not uncommon for disagreements to arise between families and providers of early intervention services. Most disagreements are the result of misunderstanding or miscommunicated expectations and can often be resolved through an honest conversation between the parties. When a disagreement occurs or a family feels that their rights have been violated they have both informal and formal methods to help them resolve their dispute. Families are encouraged to refer to the booklet "Family Rights in New Jersey's Early Intervention System". Your service coordinator should have given you a copy. If you do not have one or want another please contact your service coordinator. You can also find information at the New Jersey Early Intervention System's web site at: http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/eiphome.htm

Why Disputes Arise in Early Intervention
There are many reasons why disagreements occur in early intervention. Quality early intervention is both an art and a science. There will always be different opinions about how to best meet the needs of children and families. The Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team (which includes the family, service coordinator and service providers) makes early intervention decisions, and disagreements within the team are to be expected. The purpose of early intervention services is to help families to meet the developmental and health needs of their child. Opinions about early intervention services may be very emotionally charged and strongly held. We are working together on very private and personal issues. Disagreement is an integral part of the process of early intervention. It is not necessarily a sign that anyone has done something wrong, but it is a sign that more discussion, negotiation and perhaps IFSP revision(s) need to occur.

It is the goal of early intervention services to have a high degree of family satisfaction. We will work exhaustively to help make families satisfied with early intervention services. While this needs to be done in accordance with federal and state legislation in a manner that is fair and equitable, we also must ensure a process of sensitive negotiation, consensus reaching and team decision-making.

Informal Dispute Resolution
Dispute resolution is the job of everyone at every level of the NJEIS. Early intervention personnel who are committed to helping families be satisfied with their early intervention services can solve most disputes at the local level. It is the goal of the NJEIS to encourage the resolution of disputes at the level closest to where the problem is identified.

Service Coordinators are at the front line in helping families resolve differences and disagreements with their service providers. The Service Coordinator must explain the family's rights and role in the early intervention process, what services the NJEIS provides and how the IFSP process works. The Service Coordinator assists the family in presenting concerns or dissatisfaction with any aspect of early intervention services and works on behalf of the family until the concern has been resolved. If the family is dissatisfied with service coordination services they should be encouraged to contact the Special Child Health Services Unit Coordinator.

Service providers should constantly be encouraging families to share their opinions and feelings about the services they are receiving. It is easiest and healthiest for our relationships if we can directly resolve a dispute with the person with whom we disagree. Families should be encouraged to speak directly with their early intervention provider(s). Families should be given the name of their provider agency, in writing, as well as the name and phone number of the program administrator. If the family is uncomfortable approaching the provider themselves, the Service Coordinator can assist them in contacting their early intervention provider to discuss their dispute.

Family Link Regional Early Intervention Collaborative (REIC)(908-964-5303) should be contacted by the Service Coordinator, service provider or family for assistance with dispute resolution when an issue arises that neither the Service Coordinator nor provider agency can resolve to the family's satisfaction. The REIC will assign appropriate personnel to assist with an informal resolution of the disagreement. It is especially critical to notify Family Link if the nature of the dispute is a lack of program resources to meet the family's IFSP needs. Indeed, Family Link should be notified of a shortage of resources as soon as it is identified and not just when a family complains.

Family Link will seek assistance from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) when it cannot resolve a problem, needs guidance or needs resources from the state to resolve the problem.

As it is explained in the booklet "Family Rights in New Jersey's Early Intervention System," families may contact the Office of Procedural Safeguards (877-258-6585) for assistance at any time that they have a disagreement over their early intervention services and they do not have to utilize informal dispute resolution strategies. The Office of Procedural Safeguards will contact the REIC, Service Coordinator and provider agency to see how the problem can be resolved on the local level. A great deal of time and resources will be saved if we have already done the best we can to resolve the disagreement at the local level.

Formal Dispute Resolution
When we are at an impasse the family should contact the Office of Procedural Safeguards at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. The following is an excerpt from the Department's booklet "Family Rights in New Jersey's Early Intervention System.

Individual Child Complaints
Individual child complaints can be resolved through either an impartial due process hearing or a mediation. If you disagree with an agency or local service provider participating in Part C, on the (1) identification, (2) evaluation, (3) placement of your child, or (4) provision of appropriate early intervention services to your child or family, you have the right to your child or family, you have the right to a timely administrative resolution of your concerns through an impartial due process hearing.

In addition, New Jersey offers mediation as a possible alternative to resolving disagreements. Mediation is viewed as voluntary and freely agreed to by both parties, and parents/providers are not required to use it. Mediation must be completed within 15 days of your request to a due process hearing under part C.

The due process hearing must be completed, and a written decision made, within 30 days from the date of the complaint. (mediation, if attempted, must occur within the same 30 days.)

Hearing officers are impartial persons appointed to conduct the due process hearing. The hearing officer must:

(a) Have knowledge about the provisions of Part C and the needs of, and services available for, eligible children and their families; and
(b) Perform the following duties:
(i) Listen to the presentation of relevant views about the complaint/disagreement, examine all information relevant to the issues, and seek to reach a timely resolution of the disagreement;
(ii) Provide a record of the hearing proceedings, including a written decision.

Hearing officers used in a due process hearing and mediators used in mediation must be "impartial". "Impartial" means that the person appointed to serve as a hearing officer (or mediator) of the due process proceeding-

(a) Is not an employee of any agency or program involved in providing early intervention services or care of the child; and
(b) Does not have a personal or professional conflict with his or her objectivity in implementing the process.

A person who otherwise qualifies under this section is not an employee of an agency solely because the person is paid by the agency to implement the disagreement resolution process.

Under the Part C program, you are given the rights listed below in any due process hearing carried out under this section.

(1) To be accompanied and advised by a lawyer and/or by individuals with special knowledge or training about early intervention services for children eligible under Part C;
(2) To present evidence and confront, cross examine, and to compel attendance of witnesses;
(3) To prohibit introduction of any evidence at the proceedings that has not been disclosed to you at least five days before the proceeding;
(4) To obtain a written or electronic verbatim (word by word) transcription of the proceeding; and
(5) To obtain written findings of facts and decisions.

Any proceedings for implementing the due process hearing in this section must be carried out at a time and place that is reasonably convenient to you.
No later than 30 days after the Department of Health and Senior Services receives your disagreement (complaint), the due process impartial proceeding required under this section is completed and a written decision is mailed to each of the parties.

Any party not satisfied with the findings and decision of the due process hearing has the right to bring a civil action in state or federal court.

During the pendency (time period) of any proceeding involving a parent/provider complaint, your child and family will continue to receive the appropriate early intervention services currently being provided unless the agency participating in Part C and you agree otherwise.

If your complaint involves an application for initial services, your child and family must receive those services that are not in dispute.

Administrative Complaints
In addition to the Individual Child Complaints process, an individual or organization may file a written signed complaint with the New Jersey Early Intervention System that any agency participating in Part C is violating a requirement of the Part C program. The complaint must include a statement that a requirement of Part C has been violated and a statement of the facts on which the complaint is based.

Further information on procedures for resolving and/or filing individual child or administrative complaints can be obtained by contacting:

Procedural Safeguards Coordinator
Jersey Early Intervention System
Department of Health
P.O. Box 364
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0364

(877) 258-6585
Toll Free