Guide to ECI

This guide explains:

  • what Early Childhood Intervention services (ECIs) are
  • how families and ECIs work together
  • how you access and pay for services
  • what your rights are.

There is a lot you can do to help your child reach his or her potential. If you are concerned about your child’s development, please contact your local Early Childhood Intervention service. Workers there can help you understand more about how your child learns, find information, create a plan and try some practical strategies.

About Early Childhood Intervention services

ECI services work with families to help children learn and develop. They focus on children with developmental delays or disabilities – from newborns to those starting school and often, beyond into the school years. ECI services help you to work towards your goals for your child and family.

In this article we are talking in a general way about what happens in early childhood intervention. A service might be provided by a large organisation or a small team. We are most concerned with what happens when they get together with you.

ECI is provided in different ways

Many ECI services in the community offer some or all of these options:

  • group activities where children can play and parents can share their experiences
  • private sessions between ECI specialists, often in the home
  • support to preschools, childcare settings and schools.

What happens in each session depends on the kind of service you choose and your goals. Private sessions will often involve play-based learning activities for your child and discussion between parents and workers.

When choosing an ECI service, you might like to look around and decide which will suit your family. Each service will be happy to explain the way they work. Even if you have limited choices, let staff know what options you prefer so they can try to meet your needs.

ECI workers and families work together

Most ECI services have teams of workers, with a range of training.

These are some of the different workers you may find in an ECI team:

Speech pathologists focus on how children express themselves and understand others, verbally and through other means. They also help with feeding issues.

Physiotherapists look at how children use their bodies to balance and move. With occupational therapists, they help with equipment for positioning or mobility.

Occupational therapists specialise in how children coordinate their smaller muscles to handle objects and play. They also consider a child’s sensory needs.

Teachers and early childhood educators focus on how children learn across all facets of development and in all aspects of daily life.

Educational psychologists also look at learning, often with a focus on behaviour.

Family workers and counsellors help with broader issues that might affect a family who have a child with additional needs.

Within teams, workers share their knowledge and skills with each other. You may find that your physiotherapist talks to you about communication, and your occupational therapist talks about behaviour. Everybody looks at the whole child.

You may have a key worker, who will work most closely with you. They will:

  • get to know you and your child well
  • look with you at all aspects of your child’s abilities and needs
  • work closely with you and your child, towards your goals
  • call on others in the team as needed
  • help you to plan, and to coordinate when more than one service is involved.

Other community programs can be part of early childhood intervention

Your child can benefit from joining in activities for children in the community. These include playgroups, preschool, long day care, swimming, dancing and more. The staff there can be an important part of your early childhood intervention team.

If you attend different activities, you might like to bring everyone involved together for a meeting from time to time. It is your choice whether to do this or not. An ECI worker will be happy to help.

You are at the centre of your ECI team

You are the most important person in your child’s life, and at the heart of your partnership with an ECI service. As a parent you have many roles, including:

Making decisions: this is your child and your family. What happens to them should reflect what is important to you. Make sure that you have all the information you need to make decisions, so that your plan will achieve your goals.

Communicating: talk freely and openly with the ECI workers. This will help them understand your needs and how they can best help you and your child.

Teaching: all parents teach their children, often as part of the every day. If you feel you spend all your time teaching, with no time to be a mum or dad, and are feeling stressed, talk to your ECI worker. They may suggest a different approach.It is important to spend time having fun with your child. This is valuable for its own sake, and it also helps your child learn. Fun and laughter are very important in building relationships.

Looking after yourself: your wellbeing is essential for the wellbeing of your child.If you feel that your ECI activities are putting pressure on you, talk to your ECI worker about how things are going for you, or ask to talk to someone like a family worker or counsellor.

You make the difference

Children learn best as a natural part of their everyday lives. Playtime, meal times, bath time, shopping trips – these ordinary activities can be full of opportunities. It is parents who have the chance to do this – not professionals, who may only see the child for an hour a week. Staff at childcare and school also contribute a great deal, but children spend most time with their parents.

ECI workers can plan with you how to make the most of everyday activities. They can help you to make the most of things your child enjoys, and find ways through those tricky times of day. They can practice with you, and work with you to build your skills. They can help you to problem solve when things don’t go to plan. This approach aims to fit in with family routines, so that you do not need to find lots of extra time.

Even so, helping your child in this way is hard work. You need support in this role. If you are feeling stressed and need more support, talk to your ECI worker. It can be very helpful to talk to other parents, to share ideas and stories. There is no single right way to work with your child. It is up to you to decide what works best for you and your family. One way to explore your options is to talk to an Early Links worker. Plumtree can help you find your closest Early Links service.

ECI services will work with you to help your child develop

ECI workers will help you to make and carry out a plan for your child’s development. This should reflect your priorities and your family life. You might sometimes hear this plan called an ‘Individual Family Service Plan’.

Your worker can take on different roles in her time with you. These include:

Providing information: ask your ECI worker questions about your child or any broader concerns. She will also tell you about community activities and programs so you can find the ones that are right for your child.

Planning: this is a key part of early childhood intervention. Your ECI worker can help you set out what you want to achieve, how to achieve it, and who can help. You can plan for the short or long term, whatever you like.

Playing: your ECI workers will play with your child. She will plan a variety of games and activities. These hands-on activities are important to work out what your child enjoys, understands and needs help with.

Coaching: at times, your ECI worker might coach you through some of the activities or tasks you have planned. Always give your ECI worker feedback, so that she can adapt what she does to make it more useful for you.

Listening: sometimes, you might just want to talk. This is important, and ECI workers feel privileged to listen to your stories. Listening also helps them understand what is important to you and your child.

Using and paying for Early Childhood Intervention services

Fees vary. Some programs charge no fees, because they are fully funded by the government. For others, families pay part or all of the costs. Some families can get funding to help with these costs.

The funding system is different depending on where you live, so it is best to talk to someone in your area. In NSW, an Early Links team is a good start.

Interpreters can help you use ECI services.

ECI providers can be government or non-government organisations

ECI organisations and agencies include:

  • government departments (like the NSW Department of Education and Communities)
  • non-government organisations ( not-for-profit organisations, which may be large or small, part of a church or other organisation or completely independent)
  • private providers.

ECI services are often offered in childcare centres and preschools. Some childcares and preschools have their own therapists and special teachers on staff, but most do not. Instead, they partner with ECI workers to ensure that your child’s ECI program is a natural part of daily life.

Costs for ECI services vary

There are ECI options for everyone, even if you are on a low income. For some services, there is no cost or part fees. Some programs have high fees. Make sure you are very sure of the fees from the beginning.

Fees depend on the ECI service you choose, and whether your child is eligible for government funding.

You may receive National Disability Insurance Scheme funding. This is a new government policy that is already available in some parts of Australia. It will be Australia wide by the middle of 2018.

Your ECI service will tell you about the funding system and your options. An Early Links program is a good start for families in New South Wales.

Interpreters are available

An interpreter or translator can help you talk to an ECI service. Ask them to help you find an interpreter.

Be clear about your options

When you contact an ECI service, they will have lots of information for you. It can be hard to keep track of all the information you are given. Before you make a decision, make sure you are clear about what is offered. You can:

  • Ask questions. You can do this at the time, or you can ring back later, or ask by email. Here are some of the things you might like to know:
  • Who will see me and my child?
  • How will I, the parent, will be involved in what happens?
  • How would they approach the things that are most important to us right now?
  • Where will sessions take place?
  • How long will the program last for (eg 10 sessions, six months) and what happens when it finishes?
  • What is included? For example, will they provide resources, or help with finding equipment?
  • How much it will it cost? Is there any funding we could apply for?
  • If there is a cost, what happens when we have to cancel a session? What happens if we need to pull out of the program?
  • What are the organisation’s values? Are they a good match for us?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions: what matters is that the service feels right for you, and you know what to expect.

  • Ask for the information in writing, or ask to make a voice recording (eg on your phone) so that you can talk about it with other family members, later.
  • Take someone else along, to help you sort through the information. If you need to take your child to appointments, it can help to have someone there to occupy him or her when you need to share information.

Your rights

You and your family have a right to be respected and valued, no matter what your ability, background, culture, or needs.

If you are concerned about how an ECI is treating you, you can take steps to fix the problem.

ECIs must treat you fairly

All ECIs must treat you fairly and respectfully, by:

  • valuing your child as an individual, and never defining your child by any label or difficulty he or she may have
  • valuing you and your family for your skills, knowledge and experience
  • respecting your culture and background
  • including your other children wherever possible
  • listening to you and treating your feedback constructively
  • doing what they say they will, as best they can
  • giving you all the information you need to make decisions
  • working with you in a program that suits you and helps you to enjoy being a parent.

ECIs must keep your information confidential

All information about your child and family must be kept securely. An ECI will not disclose it to another organisations without your permission, except to protect children from harm.

The law requires an ECI worker to act on any reasonable concern that a child may have been harmed or be at risk of harm. In this situation, it may not be possible to keep information confidential, because the wellbeing of the child comes first.

Try to resolve issues

If you have concerns about the service you are getting, please talk to the provider. As well as helping your child, you are helping the provider to improve their service and your feedback will be valued.

  • If the problem is to do with to a specific ECI worker, speak to them directly. This might solve the issue.
  •  You can also speak to that worker’s manager, who can try to resolve your concerns, or tell you about the organisation’s formal complaints process.
  • You can lodge a formal complaint with the organisation, to be managed under their complaint procedures.
  • If there has been a serious breach of trust, talk to the funding body (for a non-government ECI) or the Ombudsman in your state.

You can bring someone along to support you in any conversation you have.

Speaking up for the rights of your child and family is called Advocacy. Read more about this at

Early Links in New South Wales

The NSW government has funded this service to support families who are seeking answers about their child’s development, and perhaps are going through a formal assessment and diagnosis. This support is short term, and is designed to link families with ongoing services and activities in their area. It is an opportunity to explore what the child’s developmental concerns may mean for the child and for the whole family. It is available for children aged up to 8 years.

This service is provided by:


Phone 02 9890 0100

Central Coast, Hunter, Cumberland/Prospect, Nepean, Northern Sydney, Far North Coast, Mid North Coast and New England areas.


Phone 1300 227 393

Central West, Far West and the Riverina-Murray areas.

Mission Australia

Phone 02 4824 4000

Illawarra and the Southern Highlands areas.



Phone 02 9311 0177

Eastern and Southern Sydney


Phone 02 9572 8840

Inner West , City of Sydney and Eastern Sydney