Haring Center

June 18, 2020

First Cohort Graduates from Interdisciplinary Early Intervention Program

“The skillset required for an early interventionist is really different from the skillset required for a special education teacher,” says Haring Center researcher and Teaching Associate Ariane Gauvreau (PhD ‘15).

Gauvreau explains that the field of early intervention, which provides services to children with developmental delays or disabilities from birth to age three, draws from a variety of backgrounds including education, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, vision therapy and social work.

Students at the UW College of Education (CoE) who are interested in early intervention typically choose a degree specialization in Early Childhood Special Education.

“At the College of Education, we focus on supporting individuals with diverse needs,” says Haring Center researcher and Associate Professor Angel Fettig. “We want to make sure our students are trained in a way that they are prepared to work with the most vulnerable population. Basic needs need to be met before we will see success in child development.”

Fettig and Gauvreau explain that the current assortment of early intervention service providers in Washington state often work in a parallel fashion, resulting in low levels of meaningful interaction.

For this reason, the two teamed up with the UW School of Social Work (SSW) for an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration.

School of Social Work Professor Maureen Marcenko explains, “Both social work and educational services are so critical in that early period that bringing together educators and social workers just seems like a natural.”

The collaboration, which funds CoE and SSW students interested in early intervention during their final year of study, marks the first partnership between these two disciplines statewide.

“Because early intervention work is so unique and so nuanced, so intimate and complex, the collaboration of a larger interdisciplinary team is crucial,” affirms Gauvreau.

Four cohorts of six scholars each (three from CoE and three from SSW) will receive fellowships for this interdisciplinary study from the Office of Special Education Programs under the US Department of Education. The first cohort graduated this month.

In their final year of study, students take courses across both schools and come together for regular seminars to discuss their early intervention work.

“The seminars are a place where we talk about specific practices around home visiting, parent coaching and so on,” says Marcenko. “Students are able to ask questions of another discipline and get that inside view they might not have the opportunity for otherwise.”

Students also complete a paired practicum, which places one CoE student and one SSW student at the same early intervention center.

“It’s innovative to place students together in this way in their practica,” says Fettig. “While early intervention agencies see social work services as critical, it is not yet embedded in the structures.”

Gauvreau explains that opportunities for systematic collaboration are a big need in Washington, especially as families from different socioeconomic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds come together.

“The skills of a social worker and the skills of an educator are so different, and we can learn so much from one another,” she says. “Educators are really good at embedding instruction within families’ homes and routines, data collection and assessment. Social workers are really good at supporting the social and emotional needs of parents and ensuring caregivers build strong relationships with their children that lead to strong attachments.”

This fellowship is an effort to think about better integration at the pre-service level and in the field, says Fettig.

The final component of the collaboration is paired home visit practice. Each pair of students makes home visits together to families who have previously received early intervention services.

“Early intervention providers do the majority of their work in homes with families, and we wanted to ensure we are effectively preparing students to collaborate and do parent coaching to support families in homes and communities from day one,” explains Gauvreau.

“The family piece is core,” continues Marcenko. “If you’re going to do family-centered services, you have to really understand what that experience is like.”

Marcenko says one of the unique aspects of the collaboration is that the families act as mentors to the pairs of students.

“It allows the students to really connect with and understand a family’s experience from the inside-out,” she says. “Families can give immediate and direct feedback to the students and be transparent about it.”

When the in-person practica and home visits ceased earlier in the year due to COVID-19, Gauvreau says there was an abrupt shift to tele-intervention for service providers.

Initially, students had planned to hold weekend playgroups for their home visit families. Each pair of students would have developed the curriculum, helped families through routines like snacks, circles and playtime and embedded parent coaching throughout.

“Our students worked really hard to set these up and scope out their unique roles, so it was a big disappointment to not be able to hold them,” says Marcenko. “But through this adversity, we’re challenged to figure out new ways to do things.”

Students from this year’s cohort say the collaborative model allows the group to share their different experiences and ideas.

Leshawn Dandridge, who received a Master’s in Social Work as part of this program, applied to the fellowship because she wanted to work with children with disabilities.

“If we can start the relationship between social workers and educators working together as a team earlier, it could follow on as we move through the educational ladder,” Dandridge says. “These early partnerships show the benefits of social workers in the classroom providing services.”

Em Dandridge, Leshawn Dandridge’s practicum counterpart, received their Master of Education in Early Childhood Special Education.

“One thing I really appreciated in working with a partner is that during home visits we could both interact with the parent, the child, the child’s baby sister even,” says Dandridge. “It became a true community experience.”

Leshawn Dandridge says she found the paired home visits to be very important. “Learning to work with parents was great because it encouraged a return to a more natural, holistic kind of teaching and interaction between child and parent. I could practice letting parents come up with their own solution and then fostering that solution to see how we could make it work for them.”

In addition to the collaboration benefits, Leshawn Dandridge and Em Dandridge note other advantages they experienced in their fellowships. “This fellowship allowed me to present at the Division for Early Childhood’s annual conference on how to better support gender non-conforming children, which is something I’m really passionate about,” says Em Dandridge. “That was an awesome experience.”

Leshawn Dandridge describes how she was able to observe the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic & Prevention Network Clinic at UW’s Center on Human Development and Disability. “I would never have checked it out if I hadn’t done this fellowship,” she says.

Marcenko explains that the faculty also have an opportunity to work together through this program in a way that they do not otherwise.

“That integration happens at the educational level with faculty, then filters to students, and that benefits families,” she says. “The driving question of our curriculum is: ‘How will this benefit the families?’”

Each cohort of students will enter the early intervention workforce following their graduation. Those graduates, Gauvreau says, will be prepared to make changes to existing early intervention systems and champion a higher level of collaboration among disciplines.

“In this first cohort, we have some incredible scholars,” she says. “They are dedicated students who have a clear vision for impacting early intervention in our state.”