Emotional/Behavioral Disorders: Family Engagement in Education (page 2)
Family engagement or involvement in the education of children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered must be viewed from the perspective of the family, who is the client or consumer. DeChillo and Koren (1995) identified several distinct elements of collaboration from the perspective of family members. First, parents reported the need for support and understanding from professionals in their relationships with family members. Families also needed assistance in the practical aspects of getting services for their child. The clear and open exchange of information between families and professionals was perceived as essential by parents, as well as flexibility and willingness on the part of professionals to modify or change services based on parent feedback. More than half of the families noted the following barriers to engagement in their child's education: (a) professionals' beliefs that families cause children's disorders, (b) insufficient administrative support for staff, (c) child welfare policies that require giving up custody of a child to get service, (d) the inherent power imbalance between professionals and family members, (e) professionals' lack of knowledge about children's disorders, and (f) professionals' high expectations of families.
Koren and DeChillo (1995) suggest that it is not sufficient to merely provide parents with resources; rather, it is important to foster a process in which parents have both control over current resources and a capability to obtain future resources. Empowering families can occur in three distinct ways: (a) the empowerment of individuals with respect to their circumstances, (b) the empowerment of individuals with respect to others, and (c) the empowerment of groups in relationship to the larger society. By looking at empowerment from this broad perspective, professionals need to help families handle problems within the family at home, deal with service systems on behalf of their child, and influence the service system for all children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered.
Voeltz (1994) identified several practices that are counterproductive to engaging parents in the education of their children. One such practice is the use of a menu approach that forces parents into predetermined roles, the shape of which they have little or no control over. Another counterproductive, but common, practice is the way in which school officials "track" or group parents as "concerned parents" who want to be involved in the education of their children and "unconcerned parents" who do not care to be involved in the education of their children. Finally, a lack of sensitivity to cultural differences alienates rather than engages parents.
The successful engagement of parents can have significant impact on children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered. Arndorfer, Miltenberger, Woster, Rortvedt, and Gaffney (1994) describe efforts to engage parents, using descriptive and experimental analysis of problem behaviors, in the homes of five young children. The parents were actively involved in the descriptive assessment of their children and manipulated potential control variables during the experimental analysis. The information obtained from different tools, including behavioral interview, direct observation, and experimental analysis, was consistent in indicating the function, or effect, of the behavior for the child. Based on the results of the descriptive analysis, experimental analysis conditions were designed to test specific hypotheses regarding the function of the challenging behavior of the children. The function of the children's behavior was verified in four to six sessions. Intervention involving functional communication training was implemented, based on assessment results, for two of the children. The functional assessment results were validated for the children. The study, which employed parents in the natural environment of the home, indicated that functional assessment procedures may be useful and practical in natural settings.
Using the home and natural conditions to engage parents in the education of their children identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered may also have an impact on parents' willingness to participate. Reimers and Wacker (1988) found that the amount of disruption an intervention causes, in relationship to the willingness of parents to participate, is initially of greatest importance to parents working with their children's behavior in the home. However, once interventions were in place, the more effective parents believed the treatment to be, the more likely they were to accept and continue the interventions.
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