Families with Unique Challenges (page 2)
Families who live in poverty, families in which substance abuse and/or physical abuse and neglect occur, families who live in sparsely populated rural areas and those in the center of large urban areas, and parents who themselves have a disability all present unique needs and challenges (see Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990).
According to 1989 Census Bureau statistics, a family of three was judged poor if its annual income was under $9,885. Families who have difficulty in obtaining and maintaining adequate housing, food, and medical care may find it particularly difficult to participate in their children's schooling. The logistical and economic difficulties of arranging transportation, time off from work, and child care for other children in the home may make a visit to their child's school an unlikely event (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990).
Homelessness is a growing problem linked to poverty. Single-parent families may make up as many as one-third of the population of homeless persons (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990). The Children's Defense Fund estimated from 1989 Census Bureau Data that the youngest Americans have the highest chance of being poor, with 20.1 percent of children under six years of age living in poverty.
Families in Urban Areas
Repetto (990), in a report on vocational education, noted the many challenges faced by educators and families living in urban areas. Decreases in population, employment, services, and financial revenues have occurred simultaneously with increases in unskilled immigrant groups, teen parents, drug abuse, and homelessness (Hill, Wise, & Shapiro, 1989, cited in Repetto, 1990).
Families in central urban areas are faced with problems that can jeopardize the welfare of their children. The National League of Cities (Born, 1989, cited in Repetto, 1990) identified the following obstacles: (a) 20 percent of the children living in urban America live in poverty; (b) housing costs have increased three times faster than per capita income; (c) young people in the United States abuse drugs more than youth in other industrialized countries; and (d) 75 percent of this country's mothers find it difficult to obtain adequate child care (p. 1).
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that dropout rates for youth in inner cities were significantly higher than for youth attending non urban schools (Kaufman & Frase, 1990, cited in Repetto, 1990). In some urban areas the rate of failure to graduate from high school approaches one half.
Urban schools face a multitude of special needs. Repetto (990) noted that the majority of these districts had found it necessary to initiate a variety of special programs for pregnant and parenting students, students who abused drugs, and those who were at risk for dropping out.
Repetto's (990) review of best practices literature indicated that successful urban education programs are characterized by high standards for all students, curricula that stress the relationship between school and real-life demands of living in the city, and cooperative efforts between schools, employers, social service providers, and families. After reviewing data on a number of successful urban school programs around the nation, Repetto (990) concluded that collaborative relationships between schools and other agencies in the larger community are necessary to resolve the many problems faced by educators in urban areas.
Families in Rural Areas
Rural areas are defined here as geographic areas with less than 150 people per square mile. Helge (1988) reported that disproportionate numbers of poverty stricken families and minorities often reside in rural areas.
Families of children with disabilities in these areas may feel isolated and lonely. They are often faced with unique day-to-day burdens such as driving long distances to take their child to needed services and having little contact with other parents and support systems (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990).
Shortages and difficulties have been noted in providing many needed services to persons with disabilities residing in rural areas. These include: audiology and speech-language pathology (London, 1986), vocational education (Mori, 1983), and school psychology (Fagan, 1988). Personnel in rural settings also find it difficult to provide adequate transportation and recreational services for students with severe disabilities (Hamre-Nietupski, 1982).
Personnel shortages impact the delivery of education services. School districts in rural settings tend to be more isolated in the overall state services delivery system. These school districts must contend with a disproportionate concentration of services in urban settings. School districts must also cope with significantly higher attrition rates among their personnel than their urban counterparts. Finally, school districts must integrate information and knowledge from a variety of disciplines without the help or support of ancillary personnel. These are critical needs if persons with disabilities in rural settings are to receive educational, vocational, domestic, and recreational opportunities in natural, integrated environments.
Children born of substance abusing parents are threatened by multiple physical, emotional, nutritional, and medical risk factors. In the alarming number of cases where the infant is exposed to drugs or alcohol before birth, the interaction of the resulting disabilities with a potentially unhealthy and unsafe home environment poses even greater risks (Kanagawa, 1991).
Two specific groups of infants prenatally exposed to drugs and born with disabilities are receiving increased attention today. The first group includes infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Pregnant women who abuse alcohol are at risk for giving birth to a child with intellectual, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. Children with FAS may be mentally retarded, smaller in physical size than normal, irritable or hyperactive, and have irregular features of the nose, chin, or eyes. FAS is considered to be a leading cause of mental retardation in the United States.
The second group of infants born with disabilities due to prenatal exposure to drugs are the cocaine or "crack babies." These infants also show a wide range of problems including hyperirritability, poor feeding patterns, irregular sleeping patterns, low birth weight, premature birth, and respiratory problems. In addition, approximately 75 percent of instances of AIDS in newborns are linked to maternal abuse of drugs during pregnancy (Kanagawa, 1991).
In her review of literature, Kanagawa (991) noted that children born to parents who abuse drugs and alcohol often face a home environment poorly suited to meet the needs of a young child. Some of these babies are left in the hospitals and abandoned. These infants may be cared for by relatives on a voluntary basis without any supports or financial aids, or they may be placed in some type of substitute care setting. Halfon 0989, cited by Kanagawa, 1991) reported that drug-related foster placements in Los Angeles increased by 1,100 percent between 1981 and 1987.
How the field of special education will meet the challenges presented by these children born to substance abusing parents remains to be seen. Kanagawa (991) recommended the following:
- Individualized services should be focused on the unique needs and problems of both the child and the primary caregiver.
- Services to these children are best delivered within a family setting. This might include family, foster, or adoptive home settings, as long as they are stable environments with at least one permanent caretaker.
- Caregivers must be viewed as equal partners in service and development delivery.
- Comprehensive services should be coordinated across agencies.
- Services should be delivered without discrimination or value judgments relative to cultural diversity and alternative lifestyles.
© ______ 1994, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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