Early Childhood Special Education Services

Nebraska Department of Education
Department of Health and Human Services Early Intervention
Early Childhood Special Education (EI/ECSE)

A Practitioners Guide to EI/ECSE in Nebraska for Young Children with Disabilities Birth to Age Five and Their Families


“This website is currently under construction.  In future visits, you will notice changes to its organization as we make updates.  Our wish is to make the site as user-friendly as possible.  Please feel free to contact us with feedback.”

The purpose of this website is to promote the use of early childhood special education and early intervention (ECSE/EI) evidence-based practices in Nebraska–a “one-stop shop” for individuals or teams who wish to connect with the latest research, tools, practices and ideas.  It is also a place for teams to share their resources, highlight their practices and connect with each other.

The website is designed by practitioners……for practitioners.  Its development is spearheaded by Cindy Hankey, ECSE /SLP, and Sue Bainter, ECSE/OT with guidance from Jan Thelen and Joan Luebbers (NDE) and Amy Bunnell (DHHS).  Sue and Cindy serve as contracted consultants with NDE/DHHS as Routines-Based Early Intervention Coordinators.

If you have technical assistance or training needs, please contact Sue at suebainter@yahoo.com or Cindy at cahankey@gmail.com.photo

Birth to five teachers, related service providers and services coordinators working in Nebraska typically provide supports to children with disabilities and their families in one of three primary capacities:

1. Services Coordinators who are the central point of entry for families with children birth to age three who are referred for possible eligibility for early intervention services.  If verified by the MDT, families are eligible for ongoing services coordination.

2. Itinerant teachers and related service providers work primarily with adults in homes and center based settings to support children in everyday routines and activities.   These practitioners work with parents and other family members, childcare providers, Head Start and other community-based providers, preschool teachers, etc.

3. EC/ECSE teachers work primarily with children and their families in school-based early childhood settings to support children in everyday routines and activities.

Administrators responsible for early intervention and early childhood/early childhood special education program will find many useful tools on this website as well and are encouraged to explore the resources along with their staff.  The supports on this website are arranged according to home-based and center-based service provision.

To maximize the benefits of this website, early childhood teams are encouraged to complete one or both of the following tools:

(1) “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Natural and Inclusive Settings for Children B-5 in Home Based Settings”, and/or

(2) “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Inclusive Center Based Settings for Children B-5.”

These tools are intended to help teams examine their typical practices with the intent of moving toward evidence-based service delivery.  Each item on the self assessment tool has a web page containing succinct definitions, important links and related resources.  Teams may find it helpful to review the web page description before completing the self assessment tool. The tools themselves and the supports are meant to represent the most salient practices unique to home and center-based ECSE and EI service provision.  They are not meant to be inclusive of ALL quality early childhood practices.

National Picture

In an effort to improve the results and outcomes of services for children with disabilities birth to age 5 and their families, much time, energy and resources have been devoted to changing the way services and supports have been provided.  The research about what works and doesn’t work continues to grow.  We need to move away from child-centered therapy in specialized locations toward family-centered services in natural and least restrictive, inclusive environments.  Even with changes in federal legislation (Public Law 99-457) and regulations (IDEA – Part C) dating back to the late 1980’s in support of family-centered services, debate over service delivery continues.  In 2007, nationally recognized leaders in early intervention/early childhood special education met to define in as cohesive a manner as possible, the mission, key principles, and agreed upon practices of the field.  The product of this work group is critical because Nebraska makes every effort to promote practices and models for young children birth to age 5 that are evidence-based and consistent with federal and state regulation (NDE Rule 51 and DHHS Chapter 10).

A 19-minute introductory video has been produced to help audiences understand the rationale for routines-based or asset-based assessment for children and families.  Changing the Way We Do Business video link.  It was taped during an actual Routines-Based Interview training in Nebraska.  The NECTAC 7 Key Principles referenced in the video can be found in the supporting documents provided below.  These documents outline and highlight changes that have occurred in the field of EI/ECSE over the last 15-20 years.

History of Training and Supports in Nebraska

Over the past decade, Nebraska has provided significant training and technical assistance consistent with evidence-based research in early intervention/early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) and the mission, beliefs and principles promoted by National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC).  Statewide training has included: family-centered services, use of the Routines Based Interview (RBI), use of the Primary Service Provider (PSP) service delivery model (now known as the Primary Coach model), coaching and teaming practices, the 5 Component Model, writing functional objectives and providing services in natural and least restrictive environments.

Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009 provided Nebraska with unprecedented opportunities to support early intervention services in better meeting the needs of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities, and their families.  Statewide initiatives funded through ARRA included professional development opportunities focusing on the 5 Component Model developed by Dr. Robin McWilliam of the Siskin Institute in Chattanooga, TN. The 5 Component Model was selected as an area of focus because it is consistent with the NECTAC principles and builds upon the Primary Service Provider practices developed by Dathan Rush and M’Lisa Sheldon from the Family Infant Preschool Program of Morganton, NC. Both the Primary Service Provider model and the 5 Component Model include family-centered services, working in natural and inclusive environments, writing functional outcomes, and the use of a primary service provider as basic underpinnings for their philosophical constructs.

In addition to in-state professional development opportunities, ARRA funding has supported the training of several providers and services coordinators at the SISKIN National Routines-Based Interview (RBI) Training Institute in Chattanooga, TN.  There are now over a dozen certified RBI trainers in our state who are able to provide technical assistance as needed.

Nebraska has also formed two stakeholder groups with statewide membership.  The first of these is the Home-Based Stakeholder group; the second is the Center-Based Stakeholder group. These groups meet quarterly to provide guidance regarding statewide training and technical assistance needs.  Sue Bainter and Cindy Hankey are the contracted statewide RBI coordinators.

For a more detailed look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) activities, visit this link. For a list of the RBI certified trainers and team contacts and a a trainer/stakeholder map, click on either of these links:

Overview of Service Delivery Models

Much debate continues over the Primary Service Provider (PSP) model within our state and nationally. What may not be known is that the PSP model is promoted by NECTAC as well as major researchers in early intervention and early childhood special education (EI/ECSE). Studies show that “involvement of multiple practitioners in a family’s life on a regular basis has been found to negatively impact family functioning” (Rush and Shelden, 2007).

So, why the continued debate? We believe the debate continues because many related service providers were or are trained in clinical settings promoting a Multidisciplinary and/or Interdisciplinary Service Delivery model. In these models, providers typically carry out therapy according to individual developmental domains, each within their own field of expertise, and with little coordination or consultation with each other. These models have worked well in clinical/medical settings where “therapy” is provided to individual or small groups of children based upon their diagnosis and prognosis. EI and ECSE are not about diagnosis, professional experts, or doing therapy with children only. EI and ECSE are about children AND their families. They are about supporting children and caregivers in their homes, center-based programs, and community locations. Services are about helping children and adults do the things they need to do, when and where they want to do them. EI and ECSE are also about material, emotional and informational support–helping families through difficult times and connecting them with other agencies in the community.

EI and ECSE supports are most appropriately addressed by a primary service provider who represents and receives team/community support. In a PSP delivery model, EI and ECSE services and supports are provided by a primary provider who is supported by the other members of a team. The amount of support and type of service are jointly determined by the PSP and his/her team mates based upon the skill set of the PSP to provide supports for each of the outcomes on the IFSP/IEP. So instead of the old question, “Does this child need a particular therapy?” the new question becomes “Does the PSP need help supporting the family with each outcome?” If yes, then “from whom on the team.” What individual, agency or type of professional is needed to help the PSP with the outcome? The next question is how often the support person/agency will be needed by the PSP. The ongoing frequency and intensity of the consulting team member is determined jointly with the PSP, and documented on the service page. Thus the frequency and intensity of services hinges more on the knowledge, skills and confidence of the PSP than on the child or family (McWilliam, 2012, p. 112). The role of the consulting team members are in initial and on-going assessment and supporting the PSP in his/her efforts to help the child and family achieve each outcome on the IFSP/IEP. Obviously, providing services in this manner will bring about new roles and responsibilities for the entire team and require different kinds of professional development and experiences.

Dathan Rush and M’Lisa Shelden presented a webinar on March 12, 2013 for administrators about the research supporting the practices associated with the Primary Service Provider model. Click to download their presentation, PSP Webinar.

For more information about service delivery, visit https://www.ifspweb.org/module2/team-funtioning.php

For more information about the Primary Service Provider model, visit

McWilliam, R.A. (2010).  Routines Based Early Intervention.  Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing

Rush, D. & Shelden, M. (2007).  Characteristics of a primary coach approach to teaming in early childhood programs.  CASEinPoint 3(1). Available at:


Updated December 19, 2019 11:29am