Illinois Department of Human Services
Division of Community Health & Prevention
Bureau of Early Intervention

Revised on 02/01/07
Second Revision on 02/01/08
Third Revision on 02/02/09
Fourth Revision on 02/01/10


MEMORANDUM

TO:

Early Intervention Providers

FROM:

Janet D. Gully, Chief
Bureau of Early Intervention

RE:

Natural Environments

DATE:

July 1, 2005

The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify the requirements to provide early intervention services in natural learning environments. This is not a new requirement. The Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs' 1989 regulations initially implementing the 1986 Part H law required that, to the extent appropriate, early intervention services take place in settings in which children without disabilities participate. In the 1991 Amendments to Part H, Congress added the requirement of "natural environments" as part of the definition of early intervention services as well as making it a required element of the IFSP. The IDEA 1997 Amendments further strengthened the requirements related to provision of services in the natural environment by requiring States to: (1) develop and articulate specific policy and procedures for the provision of early intervention services in natural environments (34 CFR 303.167 (c)) and (2) include in the IFSPs a justification of the extent, if any, to which the services will not be provided in a natural environment (34 CFR 303.344 (d) (1) (ii)).

Part C requires, that "to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the child, early intervention services must be provided in natural environments, including the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate." (See 34 CFR 303.12(b)). By federal definition, natural environments mean "settings that are natural or normal for the child's age peers who have no disabilities." (34 CFR 303.18). Therefore, the provision of early intervention services in natural learning environments is not just a guiding principle but also a requirement of the law.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 amended section 635(a)(16)(B) to read:

A statewide system described in section 633 shall include, at a minimum, the following components:

(16) Policies and procedures to ensure that, consistent with section 636 (d) (5)

(2) the provision of early intervention services for any infant or toddler with a disability occurs in a setting other than a natural environment that is most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the individualized family service plan team, only when early intervention cannot be achieved satisfactorily for the infant or toddler in a natural environment. (Italicized words denote amendments to the IDEA)

The Conference Report states:

The legislation amends current law to recognize that there may be instances when a child's individualized family service plan cannot be implemented satisfactorily in the natural environment. The Conferees intend that in these instances, the child's parents and the other members of the individualized family service plan team will together make this determination and then identify the most appropriate setting in which early intervention services can be provided.

H.R. Conf. Rep. No 108-779, at 238

OSEP has had a longstanding interpretation of the IDEA that early intervention services must be provided in a natural environment, unless a written justification exists for providing these services in other settings. Because Part C services must be tailored to the unique needs of the individual child and family (see 34 CFR 303.344 (d)), no one setting is appropriate for all infants and toddlers. OSEP expects Illinois to continue its general supervision responsibilities under 34 CFR 303.501 in the identification and correction of noncompliance with all of the Part C requirements, including the natural environment requirements under current regulations.

The outcome page of the IFSP specifically asks whether or not all EI services are provided in natural environments. If the answer is no, then effective July 1, 2005 all Service Coordinators will begin using the attached general guidance and worksheet in IFSP meetings when developing the justification for services outside of a natural learning environment. Justification should incorporate a plan to transition interventions into natural settings.


MEMORANDUM

TO:

Child and Family Connections Managers
Service Coordinators

FROM: 

Janet D. Gully, Chief
Bureau of Early Intervention

RE:

Natural Environments

DATE: 

July 1, 2005

This memo provides general guidance for working with providers to develop justification for services that are not in natural environments.

The outcome page of the IFSP specifically asks whether or not all EI services are provided in natural environments. If the answer is no, then effective July 1, 2005, you should use the attached worksheet to document the extent to which services will be provided in a setting other than a natural learning environment. This justification becomes part of the IFSP.

Written justifications should be based on the needs of the child. They should indicate why the recommended setting is necessary to achieve the identified outcome, as well as why no other natural learning environment is appropriate. An IFSP team should maximize their efforts to support the family within the child's natural learning environments before contemplating the need for any justification process.

Administrative convenience, fiscal reasons, personnel limitations, and parent or therapist preferences are NOT acceptable justifications for providing services outside the natural environment. The following are examples of unacceptable justification statements.

  • Administrative convenience - e.g., convenience for EI personnel, such as equipment rooms
  • Fiscal reasons - e.g., refusal to transport portable equipment due to liability, vehicle space availability, travel costs or need for additional personnel to transport/operate equipment in natural environment.
  • Personnel limitations - e.g., provider availability (whether due to scheduling or number of enrolled providers in the area)
  • Parent preferences - e.g., discomfort with providers in the home, desire for "time off" or ability to be away from the child during services, desire for an individual provider from previous experiences even though other providers exist who will come to the natural environment, parent belief that services outside the natural environment will enable the family to receive other benefits (SSI-eligibility, more or greater amount of services, "better" equipment), parent belief in clinic-based services.
  • Therapist preferences - e.g., a perceived "undesirable" family address or area, refusal to travel away from the clinic or to a particular area or distance, a belief in clinic-based services or a belief in the effectiveness of a particular service methodology or implementation style

Services outside the natural environment may be justified when necessary specialized equipment is unable to be transported to the child or found in the natural environment or a community setting within the natural family routines, if the family lives in a shelter and shelter rules prohibit services being provided, etc.

In these cases, written justification would indicate why such specialized equipment or methodology is necessary for the child (testing or training of peripheral vision or auditory equipment) or that the use of such equipment or methodology is a temporary means to increase the child's skills and how such equipment or services are necessary to achieve a particular outcome within the family's typical routines. Identification of a particular disabling condition cannot be cited as suitable justification.

Plan to transition interventions into natural settings: Justification should incorporate a plan to transition interventions into natural settings. Such plans might include references to the limited duration of service authorization and explanation of how service outside the natural environment is a precursor step in implementing specific strategies to achieve a particular outcome. The plan should include a description of how the transition will occur, whether through another IFSP meeting, automatically with the end of service authorization, etc.

A memo to providers will be posted on the EI, CBO, Training and Provider Connections web sites to ensure they are aware that you will be requesting this information.

If you have questions, please contact your assigned EI Specialist.


Early Intervention to Early Childhood Tracking Form

SECTION I (to be completed by the CFC)

District:

CFC Number:

EI Number:

Child's Name:

Date of Birth:

Parent's Name:

Referral Date:

Parent Declined Referral (Date):

Transition Meeting Date:

Service Coordinator's Name:

Service Received in Early Intervention:

  • DT
  • OT
  • PT
  • ST/Individual
  • ST/Group
  • Other:
  • Other:

SECTION I COMPLETED BY:

TITLE:

SECTION II (to be completed by LEA/School District)

Date IEP Completed:

* Date Services Began:

Screening Date:

Group Assessment Date:

Dates scheduled for needed assessments:

  • Health
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Social / Emotional
  • General Intelligence
  • Academic Performance
  • Communication
  • Motor Abilities

Service Recommended:

  • Special Education Eligible with Related Services
    • State PreK with
    • Head Start with
    • Private/General Education with
    • Homebound with
    • Self Contained Special Education
  • Not Special Education Eligible
    • State PreK Program
    • Head Start
    • Private/General Education
    • No Program Desired

Was this a play-based assessment? __ Yes __ No

Parent refused special services.

  • Why?
  • What Service?
  • Date Refused:

* If the services did not start on the child's third birthday, state why:

SECTION II COMPLETED BY:

TITLE:

Return to local CFC Office by fax after determination of eligibility and/or IEP is completed.

Under the provisions of the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 USC 1232g, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, information collected hereunder may not be redisclosed unless the person who consented to this disclosure specifically consents to such redisclosure or the redisclosure is allowed by law.

Rev. 10-05