Frequently Asked Questions
I understand that family involvement helps youth (with or without
disabilities) do better in school. What are the benefits for parents,
teachers, and schools?
Families that are involved in their child’s school at any level, have opportunities to learn more about their child, how their child learns, and how to support their child’s success in and out of school. Family members, in turn, are able to share their knowledge so that teachers and other professionals can better understand what strategies may be more successful with that individual child. This exchange of information provides a more holistic picture of the child and a way to provide information and services that meet the needs of the whole family.
Families that are more involved in school also learn more about how the school operates and understand more about the full array of options available through school, community, and vocational programs. In addition, families that remain involved in their child’s education through high school, are typically more supportive of their children and more confident in their parenting and ability to help their children learn.
Finally, families that are involved usually view teachers, schools, and community members more positively. If there is a difference of opinion or conflict, families that know the teachers and administrators at their school’ are more willing to discuss, mediate, and compromise’ instead of filing a complaint or initiating due process. In addition, teacher morale improves when families are involved, because parents and families tend to rate teachers higher when they know them and understand the challenges of teaching.
What are some of the identified barriers to family involvement?
There are many barriers that if not addressed, can lead to families rarely attending meetings or other functions related to their child’s education and future planning. Unfortunately, many planning meetings are not designed to be “family friendly.” Identified barriers to involvement specific to parents and family members include:
- not enough time (especially during the day)
- feel they have nothing to contribute
- don’t understand the planning process or the service system
- don’t know how to become involved in a meaningful way
- lack of child care
- feel intimidated
- not available during the time school functions are scheduled
- language and cultural differences
- lack of transportation
- don’t feel welcome at the school
(National PTA, 1992, survey to 27,000 local and unit presidents and 3,000 council leaders asking them what barriers they faced when they tried to get parents involved.)
What are some additional issues or barriers for family involvement
in the transition Individualized Education Program (IEP) assessment and
A study of 400 parents of children representing a wide range in age and disability types found that while 71% of the parents described themselves as active participants in the IEP meetings, only 14% reported that they had expressed their opinions and made suggestions during the meeting, and only 6.3% stated that they understood all that had occurred during the meeting (Lynch and Stein, 1982). The complex nature of planning for the future, accessing adult services and supports, and changing roles as youth become adults adds to the lack of active participation for families.
Transition is a stressful time for families and youth who are unsure of what the future can be and how to begin to think about what supports will be needed. Even when adult service providers do attend IEP meetings, families and youth often do not understand the language used or how services will actually evolve. This is a time when youth are searching for more independence and autonomy in planning for their future, however they may also need the advocacy and involvement of their parents and other family members in order to communicate their wishes and to access supports. Many families do not understand that the adult service system (agencies that provide services and supports when a student exits high school). The adult service system is not mandated for all individuals with disabilities and often have waiting lists.
Recent studies also report that parents do not characterize their relationship with educators and adult service providers as collaborative and leading to a parent-professional partnership. Parents in one study felt that professionals lacked sensitivity, used educational jargon, and appeared unable to help solve problems and generate solutions (Brotherson, Turnbull, Bronicki, Houghton, Roeder-Gordon, Summers, & Turnbull,1988; Salembier & Furney, 1997).
What are some important strategies for successful parent involvement?
It is not enough to just invite parents or family members to the school or to their child’s IEP meeting. Parents and family members must be proactively supported in order for their involvement to be successful. Ideas for this include:
- written policies that promote family involvement
- administrative support in the form of funds that are made available through the district budget for materials, space, equipment, and staff time to carry out activities
- ongoing training made available for staff and families
- joint planning, goal setting, policy development, and evaluation between parents, teachers, and school administrators
- communication between home and school that occurs on a regular basis (parents and families feel comfortable coming to the school, sharing ideas, and voicing concerns
- networking programs to share information and resources
- inclusion of regular evaluation activities at key stages as well as at the conclusion of any project or activity cycle
(Williams & Chavkin, 1989. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory)
The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has developed
a set of standards for parent involvement that are based on more
than 30 years of research, with the purpose of promoting family
participation, raising awareness of effective programs, and providing
guidelines for schools. What are those standards?
The standards developed by the National PTA include:
- communication between home and school that is regular, two-way, and meaningful
- parenting skills are promoted and supported
- parents play an integral role in assisting student learning
- parents are welcome in the school and their support and assistance are sought
- parents are full partners in the decisions that affect children and families
- community resources are used to strengthen schools, families, and student learning
What are some practical ways for schools to increase parent and
Schools can increase parent and family involvement by:
- Providing teachers with information and supports on how to better communicate with and involve families; allowing teachers the time to have phone conversations or face-to-face communication with families.
- Developing a phone network or chain of volunteer families who can call each other. Families respond better to direct contact.
- Developing a short survey to ask families what kind of events and activities they want to participate in, as well as what they see lacking for their child and family as part of the school community; development of multiple ways that families can actively participate, based on feedback. Some schools plan annual day-long retreats that include families, teachers, administrators, and others.
- Inviting families to visit and create a classroom environment that welcomes them and helps them to feel comfortable.
- Creating family centers within the school (a place for families to go and have a cup of coffee, find educational and parenting materials, and communicate with other families or school personnel).
- Offering school space for social events planned with families to celebrate families, students, teachers, and community. It is difficult in today’s world for families to feel welcome at schools that have no space for families to go and security guards at the door.
- Providing a suggestion box for families who may not want to discuss an issue in person, but would like to communicate a concern or compliment.
- Creating school-based or site-based councils that include a representation of 50% families to develop policies, practices, and curriculums for the school.
- Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to be involved in all school activities, including homecoming, the prom, French club, community service, theatre, music, etc.. Parents attend events and get involved in schools when their children and youth are present and involved.
- Opening school gyms, pools, and classrooms for after-school events for families, with school staff present for interaction and communication.
What is parent-professional partnership and collaboration?
Partnership, collaboration, and integration are the new buzzwords to address the relationship between families and those who provide resources, services, and supports. In order to have a partnership or collaborative relationship, families and professionals must value the contribution that each of them brings to the table. Families must be seen as bringing intimate knowledge and understanding of their child and their family, their strengths, and needs.
Professionals bring a body of knowledge specific to their field (medical, educational, therapeutic, rehabilitative, vocational, and more). They have access to peers who bring additional resources and options for families to choose from. Professionals also have valuable experience and knowledge with each child that takes place in a non-home environment, and this information can be extremely helpful to parents as well.
More and more professionals are acknowledging that in order for collaboration to work, a whole new shift in thinking must occur. Professionals can no longer see themselves as the expert or the “provider” of services, but more as the listener and bridge-builder; the one who does not come with a prescribed service based on diagnosis, but based on what the family and youth with a disability say they need and want.
What can teachers and school administrators do to promote family-professional
collaboration and partnerships?
- Recognize that the family is the constant in the child’s life, while the service system and personnel within those systems fluctuates.
- Facilitate parent-professional collaboration at all levels of care and service: care of an individual child/youth program development, implementation and evaluation, and policy formation.
- Honor the racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of families.
- Recognize family strengths and individuality and respect different methods of coping.
- Share complete and unbiased information with parents on a continuing basis and in a supportive manner.
- Encourage and facilitate family-to-family support and networking.
- Understand and incorporate the developmental needs of infants, children, and adolescents and their families into the systems.
- Implement comprehensive policies and programs that provide emotional and financial support to meet the needs of families.
- Design accessible education and health care systems that are flexible, culturally competent, and responsive to family identified needs.
National Center for Family-Centered Care. (1990). What is family-centered care? [brochure]. Bethesda, MD: Association for the Care of Children’s Health.
The following sources were cited in this Frequently Asked Questions. For additional research and resources, see our links to other pages on this topic below.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Examining Lives in Context: Perspectives on the Ecology of Human Development. Edited by Phyllis Moen, Glen H. Elder, and Kurt Luscher. This publication brings together research and contributions of distinguished scholars whose work intersects with that of internationally renowned behavioral scientist Urie Bronfenbrenner.
Blank, M., & Lombardi, J. (1991). Forging new relationships through collaboration. Policy brief. 8th Annual symposium of the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation. White Plains, New York.
Brotherson, M., Turnbull, A., Bronicki, G., Houghton, J., Roeder-Gordon, C., Summers, J., & Turnbull, H. (1988). Transition into adulthood: Parental planning for sons and daughters with disabilities. Education and Training in Mental Retardation, 165-174.
Lynch, E. & Stein, R. (1982). Perspectives on parent participation in special education. Exceptional Education Quarterly, 3, 56-63.
Williams, D., & Chavkin, N. (1989). Essential elements of strong parent involvement programs. Education Leadership, 47(2), 18-20.
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