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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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E-mail this pageParent/Professional Collaboration

This topic explores how teachers, families, and schools can collaborate to help families become and stay involved in helping their children succeed in school and make the transition to work or postsecondary education.


Definitions of “family” vary widely throughout our society. A family can include many people, from parents, foster parents, grandparents, and siblings, to adults, youth, and children who are not blood relatives.

Family involvement in schooling includes a broad array of participation. Some families attend conferences and other school activities, help with homework, or support fund-raising efforts. Other families volunteer at the school, helping with extracurricular programs or as classroom aides. Some families work on local, state, and national advisory/planning committees or participate in program evaluation at a local or state level.

For families who have a child with disabilities, involvement in the assessment and planning of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is critical. IDEA 2004 requires parental involvement in student IEP planning. However, many parents who attend transition planning meetings report that they typically assume a passive role in the planning process, rather than playing a more active role as collaborative team member.

Research indicates that when parents participate in education, students increase both in achievement and attitude (Henderson & Berla, 1994). Other benefits include improved attendance, fewer discipline problems, and higher aspirations for school and career development (Caplan, Hall, Lubin, & Fleming, 1997).

In order for families to get involved and expand their participation beyond their own child, they must have opportunities to increase their own knowledge and skills, believe that they are equal partners with teachers and administrators, and have access to a caring, welcoming school environment. This is especially true of families who have children and youth with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Too often, these parents feel that they are outsiders in a very technical, specialized, and foreign world of titles and interventions that does not value their child or their role as parents.

As our communities become more diverse in cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious heritage, there are additional issues to consider. To involve families whose primary language is not English, who are recent immigrants with no formal school experience, who are of low socioeconomic status (SES), and who have had negative school experiences, it may be necessary to hire community outreach staff who represent those communities and can meet with families either in the community or individually in their homes. Building trust and personal relationships with families of diverse backgrounds will support their involvement and understanding of educational expectations. Additional strategies may include creating a family mentoring program, developing a survey to ask families how they would like to be involved, or working with culturally specific community organizations that have established relationships with families.

Parent-professional collaboration moves a step further than family involvement. To collaborate means to work together in a reciprocal relationship based on mutual trust and caring. The move toward collaboration is an effort to improve direct services for families and professionals, identify informal supports, and build communities for people with disabilities that are based on their culture, dreams, goals, priorities, and needs.

As you think about family involvement and parent/professional collaboration for youth with disabilities, you may want to consider the following questions:

  1. In what ways does my school or organization actively seek and/or provide opportunities for family involvement?
  2. Are most of the families represented by my school or organization involved in the transition planning process for their child? If not, how can we make this a positive experience for them so that they will increase their involvement in the future?
  3. What strategies do we use to actively solicit feedback, ideas, comments, and concerns from families and their children with disabilities?
  4. What processes are in place to facilitate communication between families and staff?


The following sources were cited in this Introduction. For additional research and resources, see our links to other pages on this topic below.

Caplan, J., Hall, G., Lubin, S., & Fleming, R. (1997). Parent involvement: Literature review and database of promising practices. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Henderson, A., & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, DC: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

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Institute on Community Integration
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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.