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Improving Family Involvement in Special Education
Research Connections
Fall 2001

Improving Family Involvement in Special Education

Family involvement is considered essential to improving educational results for children with disabilities. As the 21st Report to Congress on the Implementation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasized, family involvement is a strong factor affecting learning and school performance (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).



Family involvement in children's special education was an original tenet of IDEA, with family roles expanding with each re­authorization of the law. IDEA delineates several levels of parental rights in special education services for children from birth through age 21: consent, notification, participation in educational decisions about their children, and participation in policy making. The emphasis on parent involvement in the Part C program of IDEA for infants and toddlers is particularly strong, with its call for family-centered services to address the needs of the entire family in relation to the child. Yet even with this long tradition of legislative support, parent involvement may not always reach desired levels, and in some cases may even be riddled with conflict.

According to family involvement consultant Valerie Burrell-Muhammad, unless service providers and families get beyond "entry level" compliance with IDEA requirements, the opportunity for true collaboration will be lost. "Parenting is a noble profession that must be honored," Burrell-Muhammad points out. "Mindsets must change to incorporate this belief— that will take much education and training of both families and service providers."

How, then, can family involvement be improved? Recent lines of inquiry supported by OSEP have focused on this question. Several research-based approaches that show promise in increasing family involvement are presented in this Research Connections.

Next: Research Identifies Opportunities and Offers Solutions for Improving Family Involvement

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