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School and Community Supports - When and Where to Get Help

Some children struggle with mood, anxiety, impulse control, or sensory integration. Parents become concerned when their child’s social, emotional, or behavioral needs become more difficult to meet and are disruptive to daily life. Knowing when to be concerned, how to get help, and who to ask for information and support is a good place to start.

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School District Supports

Special Education - Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Special education provides specially designed education and related services to meet the unique needs of a child identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The disability must affect the child ’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from general education. Please note that not all states serve students from birth, and services may be obtained from state agencies other than the state education agency.

When To Call

Some children are identified with disabilities before entering kindergarten. Here are some circumstances to help you decide when to call your school district for help.

(Birth-3 years)

  • Your child was born with a disability and needs early intervention services.
  • You have concerns about your baby’s development.

(3-5 years)

  • Your child’s pediatrician has concerns about your child’s developmental progress and has done a developmental screening that shows some delays.
  • You childcare provider tells you that they cannot meet the needs of your child in their setting, and the child can’t be there any longer.
  • Neighbors, friends, babysitters, or family members say that your child is too difficult to care for, does not play well with others, or is too aggressive.


School age (5-18 yrs)

Some children struggle with social, emotional, or behavioral challenges once they start school. It’s helpful to ask your child what’s working and what’s not, and write it down to share with his or her teacher. There might be some simple ways to help your child with the teacher’s support, or indications that your child is struggling and may need more intensive help. Here are some situations where you may consider asking for help:

  • Your child has a decline in overall academic performance.
  • Your child has poor grades despite making a good effort.
  • Your child is removed from class repeatedly for behaviors such as being disruptive or withdrawn, “shutting down,” or refusing to do schoolwork.
  • Your child is being suspended regularly for the same types of behavior and is showing persistent disobedience.
  • Your child is refusing to go to school (truancy).
  • Your child is complaining more often (e.g., headache or stomachache) and medical conditions have been ruled out.
  • Your child refuses to do homework or study at home.
  • Your child is being bullied or is bullying others.

What Is the Process?

(Birth-3 yrs)

Early intervention services are designed to meet the developmental needs of an eligible infant or toddler with a disability, and to assist families in helping their child develop and learn. You can call your school district, county human services office, or public health office and ask for an intake for early childhood services. Referrals can also be made by doctors and others, such as day care providers, who work with young children. A professional will complete a screening and, based on the results, make a decision about whether or not your child needs to be evaluated. If you disagree with that decision, ask for a meeting to discuss why you disagree. It might be helpful to have a staff member from PACER help you. Call (952) 838-9000 to learn more.


(3-5 yrs)

If your child is age 3 or older and has not had Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) services, you can call your school district to ask for an evaluation. If your child already has an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) through early childhood, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must meet before the child’s 3rd birthday to prepare for the transition from the early intervention program to a preschool program. The team should consider whether or not a child could make appropriate progress in an integrated environment if the right supports and services were provided. They also must justify any decision to provide educational services in a segregated setting. If the child qualifies, the parent must sign an IEP by the child’s 3rd birthday.

School age (5-18 yrs)

The first step is to call your child’s teacher and ask for a meeting to discuss your concerns. Sometimes informal supports can be put into place to address the child’s needs.

If your child has a diagnosis from a medical provider, sharing that information with the child’s teacher, social worker, or school principal may be helpful in having your concerns addressed.

Call your child’s school administrator and ask to speak with the staff member who is responsible for facilitating the special education services evaluation team. Once you have spoken with that person, put your evaluation request in writing. E-mail communication is acceptable, but it is a good idea to follow up with a written, signed, and dated copy of your request on paper. Remember to keep a copy for yourself.

If your child already has a 504 Plan and is continuing to have significant challenges that disrupt his or her ability to learn (either academic and/or social emotional), request in writing an evaluation for special education services. An e-mail is acceptable, but follow up with a written, signed, and dated copy. Remember to keep a copy for yourself.


  • Understanding the Special Education Process

    It shows what happens from the time a child is referred for evaluation and is identified as having a disability, through the development of an individualized education program (IEP).

  • 504 Flowchart Handout and Timeline

    How does a school determine if a child is eligible for services either under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973? The adapted Minnesota Department of Education chart on the other side gives you an idea of how the two processes work.

What Are My Rights?

Right to an Evaluation: Anyone can refer a child for an evaluation. The parent or legal guardian also has the right to request an evaluation and participate in determining evaluation needs, developing the evaluation plan, and determining eligibility for special education.

Development of the IEP: The parent is part of the team that determines special education and related services listed on the IEP, which must be based on a documented evaluation. The initial IEP cannot be implemented without parent consent. In Minnesota, ongoing IEPs can be changed without written consent by the parent after 14 calendar days if the IEP team has met, agreed on those changes, documented them, and sent them to the parent in a prior written notice.

For a child with an IEP: Parents can request an IEP team meeting at any time when the child is not making progress; when new needs are identified (by a new diagnosis, failing grades, etc.); or when the child’s behavior is resulting in negative consequences (e.g., suspensions, detentions, and time outs) and the child’s access to education is being limited as a result of those consequences.

When a child’s behavior results in significant disruption in the learning environment: Parents can request an IEP meeting to discuss their concerns and the need to make changes in the IEP. The parent can ask for an updated evaluation, a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) or a new FBA if one has already been done, changes to the current IEP, a Manifestation Determination meeting if necessary, or positive behavior interventions.

Where Do I Find More Information?

  • Encourage Your Child’s Positive Behavior and School Success
    To encourage positive behavior at school, some schools have implemented a program of School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS) to teach appropriate social behavior and skills. Research has shown that this approach improves school climate and learning. As a parent, you can be part of this formula for school success by using the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) strategy at home and making a PBIS home plan.

  • Sample PBIS Home Plan
    This document is designed to be used by parents and students developing a Positive Behavior Intervention Home plan.

  • What is a Functional Behavioral Assessment and How Is It Used? An Overview for Parents
    As part of an initial evaluation or reevaluation for a child with challenging behavior, a district may conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) to identify the child’s specific needs and services. Parents may also request an FBA to more closely examine their child’s behaviors of concern.

  • Examples of PBI Strategies
    For a child with challenging behavior who has an IEP, positive behavioral interventions should be included. This list provides a variety of successful positive behavioral interventions that could be used.

  • Special Education: Evaluation and reevaluation

    Before a child receives special education or related services, he or she must have an evaluation. The evaluation will help determine if a child needs special education. A parent or a member of the school staff may make the request for an evaluation. The child’s parent must give consent in writing for the first evaluation. The evaluation will include information from parents, assessments (tests), medical concerns, and interviews with parents and school staff.


    Parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys go to Wrightslaw for accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.


    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

504 Plan

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law written to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities throughout their lives. Children who do not meet the special education eligibility criteria in schools may have a 504 Plan instead. In schools, a 504 Plan is part of regular education program and provides for accommodations and modifications within the general education setting.

When To Call?

Early childhood (Birth-5yrs)

When parents have concerns about their young child’s development, call the school district, county human services office, or public health office to talk with someone (usually called a service coordinator) about your concerns. Based on this contact, you and the service coordinator can decide whether to seek get more information through a screening or evaluation.

School age (5-18 yrs)

If your child is in school, and has documentation of a disability that is interfering with his or her ability to learn in a general education classroom, you can ask to speak with the 504 coordinator at your child’s school and request a 504 Plan for your child. Every district must have someone available to help you understand the 504 process.

Parents of children with a medical diagnosis may request a 504 Plan with or without an evaluation. However, they must be able to provide medical documentation of the diagnosis and documentation showing that the child is experiencing a disruption or limitation in learning, including concentration, thinking, communicating, and more.


  • 504 Flowchart Handout and Timeline

    How does a school determine if a child is eligible for services either under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973? The adapted Minnesota Department of Education chart on the other side gives you an idea of how the two processes work. You can find more information in other PACER publications, such as Understanding the Special Education Process . Following are a few explanations to help you understand the 504 side of the chart.

What Is the Process?

Early childhood (Birth-5 yrs)

For young children, it is generally more appropriate to determine needs through a screening or evaluation process. For children 3-5 years of age, it’s important to identify any developmental concerns in the areas of cognition, communication, physical development, social/emotional, or adaptive living skills in early intervention programs the child may be attending. Early intervention is a system of supports to help families enhance their capacity to care for their children.

School age (5-18 yrs)

Call your school district office or school principal to find contact information for the 504 coordinator. Send a copy of your written request for a 504 Plan to the coordinator and keep a copy for your records. Make certain that you have documentation of your child’s disability, which can include learning, behavior, or attention issues.

A 504 Plan is created by a group of people who are familiar with your child, which might include the parent, school social worker, general education teachers, and the school principal. A 504 Plan may be based on informal evaluation data, reports and diagnoses made outside the school, or a school evaluation. You can ask for an evaluation if you think there is more information needed about your child in order to develop a good 504 Plan or other plan of support.

What Are My Rights?

There are no standardized 504 Plans but they usually include:

  • Specific accommodations, supports, or services for the child
  • Names of the persons who will provide each service
  • The name of the person who is responsible for ensuring the plan is followed

Usually the 504 Plan is reviewed each year with input from the parent, teachers, and others who understand how the child’s disability impacts his or her ability to learn in the general education setting.

Parents have several options to resolve disagreements over the eligibility and development of the 504 Plan, including mediation, alternative dispute resolution, impartial hearing, a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), or a lawsuit.

Students receive the accommodations and modifications of a 504 Plan at no charge, although schools do not get extra funding for eligible 504 Plan students.

Where Do I Find More Information?

  • Students with Disabilities & Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those programs include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a disability and that disability must limit a major life function. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADA) broadened the definition of disability in the ADA as well as in Section 504.

  • 504 Flowchart Handout and Timeline

    How does a school determine if a child is eligible for services either under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973? The adapted Minnesota Department of Education chart on the other side gives you an idea of how the two processes work. You can find more information in other PACER publications, such as Understanding the Special Education Process . Following are a few explanations to help you understand the 504 side of the chart.

  • School Accommodation Ideas for Students who Receive Section 504 or Special Education Services

    Some students with disabilities who receive special education services need accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and to be successful in school. While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its regulations do not define accommodations or modifications, there is some agreement as to what they mean. An accommodation as used in this document allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. This accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. Examples of accommodations include a student who is blind taking a Braille version of a test or a student taking a test alone in a quiet room.

  • School Modification Ideas for Students Who Receive Special Education Services

    A modification as used in this document is an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or assignment is supposed to measure. Examples of modifications include a student completing work on part of a standard or a student completing an alternate assignment that is more easily achievable than the assignment.

  • Minnesota Department of Education - Section 504 resources

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (34 C.F.R. Part 104) is a federal civil rights statute that assures individuals will not be discriminated against based on their disability. All school districts that receive federal funding are responsible for the implementation of this law. This law protects a student with an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, whether the student receives special education services or not.

  • U.S. Department of Education - Office for Civil Rights

    Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities

School-Linked Mental Health Services

Children and youth in Minnesota may have access to mental health supports at school through school-linked mental health services. It is not a requirement in Minnesota for schools to provide these services, but a grant program from the Children’s Mental Health Division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services has given some schools the opportunity to partner with community-based mental health providers so that students can have access to services at school. This partnership offers easier access for early intervention and treatment to prevent more serious mental illness, and offers students support in a natural, non-stigmatizing setting.

School-Linked Mental Health Services

School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

The school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports (SW-PBIS) approach is to use proactive, research-based strategies to teach clearly defined behavioral expectations across the entire school. SW-PBIS is a process of planning and problem solving that includes direct teaching of social behaviors in the same was academics are taught. It establishes ongoing behavior supports that can be used by ALL students, staff, volunteers, parents, and community members. It is used with all students across all environments in school (classroom, lunchroom, restroom, and playground) to help schools to create effective learning environments.

The Minnesota Department of Education launched a state initiative for School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS) in 2005. The goal was to help selected schools successfully educate all students, especially those with challenging behaviors.

Community Supports

Mental Health Services Covered by Health Plans

Health insurance plans can cover a variety of mental health services, including outpatient and/or in-home therapies, medication management, day treatment, partial hospitalization programs, residential treatment programs, neuropsychological evaluations, and hospitalization. Parents seeking information about their plan’s coverage can contact their health plan and ask to speak with a care manager or care coordinator who specializes in mental health coverage services for children and youth. Parents can also request a copy of their health plan’s mental health service options.

Private insurance, public insurance, and a combination of private and public insurance may be used to cover the cost of mental health services.

Private Insurance

There are numerous private insurance options for both individuals and families in Minnesota. Private insurance can come through an employer or be purchased individually. When choosing a private insurance plan or deciding whether to switch insurance plans, it is important to consider a few key points:

  • If a parent wants a specific doctor or clinic to provide care for their youth, it is important that the doctor be on the new plan’s preferred or network provider list. Most insurance companies offer better coverage for medical services from the doctors on their provider lists. Some plans do not cover out-of-network providers except for emergencies.
  • It is wise to compare insurance plans. If asked, insurance companies can provide you copies of their certificate of coverage which describe the plans’ benefits, exclusions, and conditions. The certificate of coverage explains the health benefits you and your dependents have under the plan. It details the services that will and will not be covered. Services that are not covered are called exclusions. The actions you have to take to receive the health benefits—such as a co-pay, meeting a deductible, or using particular health care providers—are called conditions.
  • When you enroll in a health insurance plan, you are given a certificate of coverage. It may also be called a contract, evidence of coverage, explanation of benefits, or summary plan description (SPD). You can call your insurance customer service department at any point and ask for a written copy. This should be provided free of charge. If you have specific questions about your coverage, you can also ask to speak with a care coordinator who specializes in your plan’s mental health coverage.
  • Some plans cover prescriptions. Others require the purchase of a separate prescription coverage plan.

Public Insurance

As part of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, Minnesota has developed a state insurance exchange called MNsure. The MNsure website has information on all public and private insurance options within Minnesota.

Medical Assistance (MA) is Minnesota’s Medicaid program. It provides services to low-income senior citizens and families, and individuals with disabilities. There are income limits to qualify for this program and you can apply through the MNsure website.

Medical Assistance-TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act) is a program that provides services to children with disabilities whose parents have too much income to qualify for other Minnesota public health care programs, or who qualify but the cost would be too high. To receive MA-TEFRA, children must:

  • Live with at least one parent
  • Be under age 19
  • Be determined to have disability by the State Medical Review Team, with information provided by the child’s parent and doctors, including certification of disability by Social Security, if applicable
  • Need a certain level of home health care to stay at home, care which compares to the level of care provided in a hospital, nursing home, or an intermediate care facility for people with developmental disabilities
  • Need home care that does not cost more than the cost of care in a medical facility

It is important for families who might be considering out-of-home placement for their child, such as a residential treatment program, to consider applying for Medical Assistance or MA-TEFRA. In order for Medical Assistance or MA-TEFRA to cover out of home placement, the county must be involved with the placement from the beginning.


  • PACER’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center (F2F HIC)

    provides a central source for families of children and young adults with special health care needs and disabilities to obtain support, advocacy, and information about the health care system. Children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) are those who have or are at risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional conditions that require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally. PACER promotes family-centered care and family and professional collaboration at all levels of health care. The F2F HIC also has a strong commitment to promote and support the needs of families from racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse communities.


    MNsure is a marketplace where Minnesotans can shop, compare and choose health insurance coverage that meets their needs. MNsure is the only place where consumers can qualify for financial help either through federal tax credits or through MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.


    Federal government website managed by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

A Combination of Private Insurance and Public Insurance

Private insurance for Minnesota families of children with disabilities or special health care needs may not be enough to cover the cost of all needed health care services. In that case, the family may consider obtaining public insurance as well, including Medical Assistance (MA) or Medical Assistance-TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act). If a child qualifies for MA-TEFRA, this program may also pay outstanding medical bills for services received up to three months before the date of the family’s application.

A family currently using both private and public insurance may wish to contact its county human services department or county financial worker to determine if it is cost-effective for the county to pay the family’s monthly private insurance premium. Other states may have a different process.

For more information, visit the PACER Health Information Center or call 952.838.9000.

County Mental Health Service Options for Children

Crisis Response Services (CRS) in Minnesota

If a child or youth is experiencing a mental health crisis, telephone and mobile crisis outreach is available throughout Minnesota 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each county has specific numbers that can be called to request support from a mental health practitioner who will assess and stabilize the immediate crisis.

Crisis response teams can provide telephone crisis intervention and counseling, or provide support in homes, schools, workplaces, or other places in the community. The crisis response team can also offer referrals for mental health services and short-term crisis stabilization, and provide mental health crisis consultation to hospitals, community providers, and law enforcement. The mental health crisis response team is covered by most health insurance plans, but the service is available to all children within the county regardless of ability to pay or insurance type.

County Children’s Mental Health Services in Minnesota

Parents and their children or youth with emotional or mental health challenges, or those at risk, can contact their county children’s mental health and family services collaborative for help. After completing an intake to determine eligibility, families and their children or youth work with a children’s mental health manager to develop a coordinated, individualized service plan that builds on the strengths of the child to help improve their ability to function at home, school, and in the community.


Informal Community Based Supports

Children and youth benefit from activities where they can build new skills, connect with others, and have experiences within their community that are both positive and engaging. Sometimes when a child or youth is experiencing increased mental health or behavioral challenges, parents can struggle to find an activity or program that fits. If this happens, don’t get discouraged; take time to talk with your child about his or her interests. Consider reaching out to individuals and organizations in your community, and learn more about the different activities your child may be interested in exploring with your assistance, and how they can get support. Individuals and communities can make a difference and contribute to healthy emotional and social growth.

The following are some suggestions to start matching your child’s strengths and interests with community based supports:

  • Public organizations may offer youth programming through your city or county, public library, parks and recreation, extracurricular programs at school, and the school district’s community education programming.

  • Community organizations may provide youth activities in your area

  • Camps and summer programs are another social opportunity that could help your child or teen explore their interests and develop peer relationships within a structured environment of support.

    Minnesota Examples

  • Volunteer opportunities in your area may match your child’s interests, abilities, and availability. There are community based food shelves, animal rescue shelters, environmental and natural resource organizations, and other organizations such as the Salvation Army who have an ongoing need for volunteers.

  • Faith-based organizations can provide youth-specific or child-specific programming. Your church may be able to work with you to develop an individualized opportunity for your child to be included.

    Minnesota Examples of faith organizations that provide activities specific to youth with mental health needs:

  • Culturally based community opportunities may be available to children and youth. Parents can reach out to organizations that provide culturally specific activities and events and find opportunities for their child to be included.

    Minnesota Examples

  • Mental-health organizations sometimes provide social opportunities for youth to learn more about their mental health needs, as well as provide connections to other youth with similar challenges.

    Minnesota Examples that have support groups, classes, and activities for youth with mental health challenges

  • Youth support groups may be available to offer support to youth with mental health challenges

    Minnesota Examples