The Current Status of Early Interventionists in Nova Scotia: Perceptions of the Profession

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Morse, Patricia
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Early intervention has existed as a profession in Nova Scotia for over thirty years. The early intervention programs have history in community, founded on grass roots need for services for young children with special needs and their families. Models of service delivery have been based on legislated services in the United States of America as well as other provinces in Canada who have established provincially guided early intervention programs. Nova Scotia has adapted historical and current practice information to the unique demographics and need in the community. The early intervention programs enhance their practice by accessing ongoing research on the efficacy for children and their parents and adapt accordingly, striving to provide quality services that are responsive to need and adhere to best practices. Although much effort and energy is devoted to services delivery over the years, the profession of early intervention itself is still in its infancy. It is virtually unknown in the community as a profession in its own right. Those practicing in the field have established a professional title, developed guidelines for practice, and initiated a professional association that supports a Code of Ethics. The move towards professionalism has created a need to look further into the establishment of a recognized profession strengthened by partnerships with government and community stakeholders. With the aim of exploring and better understanding the current status and perceptions of the profession, the current research undertook a blend of quantitative and qualitative research through the use of a survey and analyzed focus group and/or individual discussions with a range of partners. The surveys were sent to the fifty-seven early interventionists working in recognized early intervention programs throughout Nova Scotia. Data from the survey was analyzed and tabulated using percentages, means and range. The five focus groups and/or individual interviews were conducted involving feedback on and perceptions of the profession from parents, educational institution representatives, professional partners, provincial representatives, and early interventionists practicing in the field. The parent and early interventionist groups included representation from urban and rural settings. Each group or individual interview was audio taped and transcribed for analysis. Using a modified grounded theory approach, the subsequent data was organized into five main categories or themes for discussion: Experience with Early Intervention, Perceptions of the Profession, Role of an Early Interventionist, Training and Future of Early Intervention. In most cases, the participants’ experience and perception of early intervention as a profession and service was positive. The topics of role, training and the future provided much more opportunity for discussion and feedback resulting in a wide variety of responses. Participants spoke clearly of the need for a higher profile and community awareness of early intervention, supporting the need for standards in pre and post service training as a starting point for role clarification and professional identity. Conversations on legislation and provincial support varied from a necessary requirement to a hands off approach, leaning towards a more active role of the professional association in the development of credentials and regulation of the profession. Many participants, including the parents alluded to the need for more resources and provincial leadership in enhancing existing services. Forecasts of the future ranged from cautious optimism to fear. Changes in models and a fragile economy were identified as key factors in the future of early intervention in the province. All participants agreed that early intervention as a profession and service was valued and viewed standard credentialing, regulation of the profession and increased awareness as essential next steps. Recommendations for stakeholders and early interventionists are offered with the intent that this information will be used to support the further establishment of the early intervention profession in the province of Nova Scotia.