Novice physical therapists' use of family-centered practices in physical therapy services

Date of Completion

January 2007


Health Sciences, Rehabilitation and Therapy|Education, Early Childhood|Education, Special




The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes the role of the family in the lives of children with special needs, and supports families in their natural care-giving and decision-making roles. This legislation guides physical therapy practice in early intervention and school settings. Family-centered functional therapy has emerged as a practice model that integrates families in therapy programming (Darrah, Law, & Pollock, 2001). Few published studies have considered physical therapists', especially novice therapists', value and use of family-centered practices. The purpose of this exploratory study was to: (1) describe novice physical therapists who practice in early intervention and schools; (2) investigate novice physical therapists' value and use of family-centered practices; (3) compare therapists' and families' perceptions of family-centered practice; and (4) identify factors that may contribute to therapists' use of family-centered practices. ^ Twenty five novice early intervention and school physical therapists from across the country and 27 parents of children receiving physical therapy services completed the Family-Centered Program Rating Scale and responded to a researcher-designed survey designed to quantify factors that potentially influence delivery of care. Analysis of participants' responses indicated that most therapists chose to practice in early intervention and schools because they wanted to work with children. Their preservice classroom and field training relating to young children varied in number of hours, with less than half of the sample's training programs having mandatory field experiences with young children. Preparation programs were more likely to provide information about medical conditions than topics relating to family-centered care. ^ Both therapists and parents highly valued indicators of family-centered care and positively rated therapists' performance. Therapists' ratings of the importance of family-centered practices tended to be higher than those of parents. Therapists' ratings of importance consistently exceeded their rating of their implementation of family-centered activities. Parents consistently rated therapists' delivery of services higher than the therapists rated their own performance. ^ Factors that significantly influenced therapists' delivery of family-centered care included: the time at which therapists' identified interest in becoming a physical therapist; the number of classroom hours relating to young children; the type of employment setting; and the number of family needs. ^