ECTA Center compiled this online edition of the DEC 2014 Recommended Practices. To reference the DEC Recommended Practices, please use the following citation:
The DEC Recommended Practices were developed to provide guidance to practitioners and families about the most effective ways to improve the learning outcomes and promote the development of young children, birth through five years of age, who have or are at-risk for developmental delays or disabilities. The purpose of this document is to help bridge the gap between research and practice by highlighting those practices that have been shown to result in better outcomes for young children with disabilities, their families, and the personnel who serve them.
The DEC Recommended Practices support children's access and participation in inclusive settings and natural environments and address cultural, linguistic, and ability diversity. They also identify key leadership responsibilities associated with the implementation of these practices.
The DEC Recommended Practices are based on the best-available empirical evidence as well as the wisdom and experience of the field. The practices are organized into eight topic are as, but they should be viewed holistically across the topic areas. Family Practices, for example, are grouped in one topic area but are fundamental to all of the topic areas. We believe that when practitioners and families have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to implement these practices as intended, children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families are more likely to achieve positive outcomes, and families and practitioners are more likely to help children achieve their highest potential.
While developmentally appropriate practices are the foundation of quality programs for all young children and families (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009), we believe that young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities often need more specialized practices that allow them to participate and engage meaningfully in their daily living routines and learning activities. While we acknowledge the important role of developmentally appropriate practices in the education and care of all children, we do not include those foundational practices in this document.
The purpose of the DEC Recommended Practices is to highlight those practices specifically known to promote the outcomes of young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and to support their families in accordance with the DEC/NAEYC (2009) position statement on early childhood inclusion. We assume that those who implement the practices:
In addition to implementing the DEC Recommended Practices, practitioners working in the field should be guided by their discipline-specific professional standards, competencies, and codes of ethics. All practitioners who work with young children, including those at risk for developmental delays/disabilities, are expected to access professional development and technical assistance systems to build knowledge and skills related to developmentally appropriate practices, the DEC Recommended Practices, and discipline-specific knowledge.
Building on previous efforts to produce DEC Recommended Practices as well as surveys and other opportunities to receive suggestions from the field, we also established the following parameters to guide the production of the current set of DEC Recommended Practices. These parameters include:
For the purposes of this document, the definition of young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities is not limited to children eligible for services under IDEA. This set of DEC Recommended Practices has eight topic areas. In our presentation of practices that appears below, we begin with the topic area of Leadership, which provides guidance for local and state leaders who support practitioners. We define leaders as those in positions of leadership or authority in providing services to all young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families. Examples of such leaders include state, regional, and local administrators; early childhood coordinators; building principals; and assistant directors and coordinators.
The other seven topic areas provide guidance for practitioners:
For these Recommended Practices, we define practitioners as those who are responsible for and paid to enhance the optimal development of young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities. This includes providing care, education, or therapy to the child as well as support to the child's family.
The work of practitioners on the frontline is critical to improving outcomes for young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families. But practitioners do not operate in a vacuum. Their ability to implement the DEC Recommended Practices can be supported or constrained by the program, school, agency, or organization for which they work.
State and local leaders establish the conditions that are essential for the successful implementation of the DEC Recommended Practices by, for example, the policies and procedures they develop and implement. Leaders in early intervention and early childhood special education can be program directors and other administrators, practitioners, family members, students, higher education faculty, and others. The set of practices in this section address the responsibilities of those in positions of program authority and leadership related to providing services to young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families. Examples of such leaders include state, regional, and local directors and other administrators; early childhood coordinators; building principals; and assistant directors and coordinators.
The provision of these services is a complex undertaking governed by federal and state laws, funded by multiple sources, and structured and administered in different ways. Some of the challenges to implementing the DEC Recommended Practices may be beyond the immediate control of state agency staff or local administrators. These challenges may require sustained advocacy from a variety of groups to create the systems change needed to establish more conducive policies and procedures. Leaders have a professional responsibility to use all the mechanisms with in their control to create the conditions needed to support practitioners in implementing the following Recommended Practices.
We recommend the following practices associated with leadership:
Assessment is the process of gathering information to make decisions. Assessment informs intervention and, as a result, is a critical component of services for young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families. In early intervention and early childhood special education, assessment is conducted for the purposes of screening, determining eligibility for services, individualized planning, monitoring child progress, and measuring child outcomes. Not all of the practices that follow apply to all purposes of assessment. For example, practice A9. focuses on monitoring child progress but does not relate to assessment for eligibility.
We recommend the following assessment practices to guide practitioners:
Young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities learn, play, and engage with adults and peers within a multitude of environments such as home, school, child care, and the neighborhood. Environmental practices refer to aspects of the space, materials (toys, books, etc.), equipment, routines, and activities that practitioners and families can intentionally alter to support each child's learning across developmental domains. The environmental practices we address in this section encompass the physical environment (e.g., space, equipment, and materials), the social environment (e.g., interactions with peers, siblings, family members), and the temporal environment (e.g., sequence and length of routines and activities). They relate not only to supporting the child's access to learning opportunities but also ensuring their safety.
It is important for practitioners to remember that these environmental dimensions are inextricably intertwined for young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities and their families.
Through implementation of the environmental practices, practitioners and families can promote nurturing and responsive caregiving and learning environments that can foster each child's overall health and development.
We recommend the following practices associated with the child's environment:
Family practices refer to ongoing activities that:
Family practices encompass three themes:
We recommend the following family practices for practitioners:
Instructional practices are a cornerstone of early intervention and early childhood special education. Teachers, other practitioners, family members, and other caregivers use instructional practices to maximize learning and improve developmental and functional outcomes for young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities.
Instructional practices are intentional and systematic strategies to inform what to teach, when to teach, how to evaluate the effects of teaching, and how to support and evaluate the quality of instructional practices implemented by others.
Instructional practices are a subset of intervention activities conducted by practitioners and parents. We use the term "instructional practices" rather than the terms "teaching practices" or "intervention" because instruction is the predominant term used in the research literature to refer to intentional and systematic strategies to maximize learning.
The recommended instructional practices below are written from the perspective of the practitioner. They may also be implemented by families or others who interact with the child, often with support of the practitioner. We recommend the following practices to support instruction:
Sensitive and responsive interactional practices are the foundation for promoting the development of a child's language and cognitive and emotional competence. These interactional practices are the basis for fostering all children's learning. For children who have or are at risk for developmental delays/disabilities, they represent a critical set of strategies for fostering children's social-emotional competence, communication, cognitive development, problem-solving, autonomy, and persistence.
We selected interactional practices to promote specific child outcomes, and these will vary depending on the child's developmental levels and cultural and linguistic background.
Practitioners will plan specific ways to engage in these practices across environments, routines, and activities. In addition, practitioners will assist others in the child's life (family members, other caregivers, siblings, and peers) in learning sensitive and responsive ways to interact with the child and promote the child's development.
We recommend the following practices to support interaction:
Educational programs and services for young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays and disabilities, by their nature, always involve more than one adult.The quality of the relationships and interactions among these adults affects the success of these programs. Teaming and collaboration practices are those that promote and sustain collaborative adult partnerships, relationships, and ongoing interactions to ensure that programs and services achieve desired child and family outcomes and goals.
It is a given that the family is an essential member of the team and that the team includes practitioners from multiple disciplines as needed. The teaming and collaboration practices we present include strategies for interacting and sharing knowledge and expertise in ways that are respectful, supportive, enhance capacity, and are culturally sensitive.
We recommend the following practices to support teaming and collaboration:
Transition refers to the events, activities, and processes associated with key changes between environments or programs during the early childhood years and the practices that support the adjustment of the child and family to the new setting. These changes occur at the transition from hospital to home, the transition into early intervention (Part C) programs, the transition out of early intervention to community early childhood programs, the transition into Part B/619, and the transition to kindergarten or school-age programs.
Transition is a process that generally involves many activities on the part of the practitioner in collaboration with the family. As with other life transitions or changes, positive relationships— in this case positive teacher-child and practitioner-family relationships— are associated with greater satisfaction, better adjustment, and better child outcomes.
We recommend the following practices associated with transition: