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
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
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
(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
(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
If your complaint involves an application for initial services, your child
and family must receive those services that are not in dispute.
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:
CoordinatorP.O. Box 364
New Jersey Early Intervention System
Department of Health
Trenton, New Jersey