Support for Family Involvement
A number of forces have combined to focus attention on the importance of a strong parent/family–teacher partnership based on mutual respect and participation. Although many factors have contributed to the increased emphasis on collaboration between parents and teachers in the education of exceptional children, three issues are clear: (1) parents want to be involved, (2) research and practice have shown that educational effectiveness is enhanced when parents and families are involved, and (3) federal law requires collaboration between schools and families.
Parents: Advocating for Needed Change
For decades, parents of exceptional children have advocated for equal access to educational opportunities for their children, and they have done so with impressive effectiveness. Parents played the primary role in bringing about litigation and legislation establishing the right to a free and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities.
The first parent group organized for children with disabilities was the National Society for Crippled Children, formed in 1921. The United Cerebral Palsy Association, organized in 1948, and the National Association for Retarded Citizens (now called The Arc), organized in 1950, are two national parent organizations largely responsible for making the public aware of the special needs of children with disabilities. The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), formed in 1963, also organized by and consisting mostly of parents, has been instrumental in bringing about educational reform. Parent members of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH), founded in 1975, have been forceful and effective advocates for family-focused educational services and the inclusion of students with severe and multiple disabilities in neighborhood schools and general education classrooms. Many parent organizations continue today to advocate for effective education, community acceptance, needed services, and the rights of individuals with disabilities.
Families have the greatest vested interest in their children and are usually the most knowledgeable about their children’s needs. The developers of a highly regarded program for planning and implementing inclusive educational programs for students with disabilities agree. They present four powerful arguments for viewing active family involvement as the cornerstone of relevant and longitudinal educational planning:
- Families know certain aspects of their children better than anyone else does. As educators, we must remind ourselves that we spend only about half the days of the year with our students, seeing them less than a third of each of those days. Non-school time may provide key information that has educational implications, such as the nature of a student’s interests, motivations, habits, fears, routines, pressures, needs, and health.
- Families have the greatest vested interest in seeing their children learn. In our professional eagerness to help children learn, we sometimes convey the message to parents that teachers care more about children than parents do. Of course, this is rarely the case.
- The family is likely to be the only group of adults involved with a child’s educational program throughout her entire school career.Over the course of a school career, a student with special educational needs will encounter so many professionals that it will be difficult for the family to remember all of their names. Some of these professionals will work with the child for a number of years, others for a year or less. Professionals are encouraged to build upon an ever-evolving, family-centered vision for the child rather than reinventing a student’s educational program each year as team membership changes.
- Families must live with the outcomes of decisions made by education teams all day, every day. People rarely appreciate having someone else make decisions that will affect their lives without being included in the decision-making. As professionals making decisions, we must constantly remind ourselves that these decisions are likely to affect other people besides the child and have an effect outside of school. (Giangreco, Cloninger, & Iverson, 1998, pp. 19–22)
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