Effective Practices for Collaborating With Families and Caregivers of Children and Young Adults With Disabilities
Shridevi Rao, Nadya Pancsofar, and Sarah Monaco
A rich literature on family-professional collaboration with families and caregivers of children and youth with disabilities has developed in the United States. This literature identifies key barriers that impede family-professional relationships including deficit-based perceptions of families and children with disabilities, narrow definitions of “family” that limit the participation of some members such as fathers or grandparents, and historical biases that constrain the participation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families. Principles for building collaborative relationships with families include honoring the strengths of the family, presuming competence in the child and the family, valuing broad definitions of “family,” and understanding the ecology of family routines and rituals. Practices that help facilitate family-professional relationships are building reciprocal partnerships with various caregivers in the family including fathers as well as extended family members, adopting a posture of cultural reciprocity, using a variety of modes of communication with families, and involving families in all aspects of the special education process such as assessment, planning, prioritizing of skills, and identification of interventions. Pivotal moments in the family’s journey through their child’s schooling, including early intervention and transition to post-school environments, provide opportunities to build and strengthen family-professional relationships. Each of these moments has the potential to involve families in a variety of processes including assessment, planning, and articulating the goals and vision for their child/youth. A focus on strengths, collaborative partnerships, and family agency and voice is at the core of strong family-professional relationships.
One of the ultimate goals in improving students’ quality of life is to provide them with quality learning experiences in schools. This goal has led many developed and developing countries to establish educational policies that encourage school practitioners to implement systems and practices that maximize students’ positive outcomes in both special education and inclusive school settings. Policy initiatives have influenced schoolwide practices and processes in many ways to change the requirements of schools and implement new approaches. Schools are directed by policies and then either strengthen or hinder implementation. Translating policies into practices can be sometimes complex and difficult. Many schools are faced with implementation failure due to a variety of factors, ranging from teacher problems with confidence, skills, and knowledge or issues in adapting to the changed practices of larger systems.
Meeting these challenges requires the involvement of teachers, schools, stakeholders, and policymakers to close the gaps between existent policies and actual school practices. One promising approach to closing the gaps is known as implementation science, which is centered on a systematic process to promote the adaptation of research-based practices and other evidence-based policies into a regular routine. Core components include ongoing coaching, staff selection and training, and support systems. These components need to be employed and sustained at a high level for successful implementation. To achieve better outcomes, schools and all stakeholders require a systematic process of transferring policies. Stages of implementation considered as a formal protocol include exploration, installation, initial implementation, full implantation, innovation, and sustainability. Community-wide efforts are required to improve the uptake and effectiveness of policies in school contexts.