Parents, Families, and Communities Ensuring Children's Rights

By Reyes, Elba I. | Bilingual Review, January-August 1999 | Go to article overview
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Parents, Families, and Communities Ensuring Children's Rights

Reyes, Elba I., Bilingual Review


Parents Impacting Change

History demonstrates that laws and legislation aimed at providing services to children with disabilities were preceded by civil action and landmark court cases that aroused national public concern. During the 1950s and l960s, parents learned from the models of social activism how to organize into interest groups. They learned how to inform the community and the general public of needed reforms in the public educational system regarding education for children with special needs. Meeting in community agency buildings, churches, and even their own homes, parents organized and conducted classes to teach other parents (and anyone who was interested) about their rights, their children's rights, and how to assure that public policy would safeguard those rights (Turnbull and Turnbull 1997). Parent-to-parent training went beyond issues of how to take care of their children. They also learned about the need for laws to protect other basic human rights. Some of these initial informal groups became formal, well-respected organizations. For example, in 1950 parents from across the country established the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children, now known as The ARC, one of this country s most powerful advocacy groups. Parents' united efforts have resulted in landmark court cases that have helped shape the intent and focus of legislation regarding children's and parents' rights (e.g., Hobson v Hansen 1967; Larry P. v Riles 1974: Mills v D.C. Board of Ed 1972; PARC v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1971).

Families soon learned that parent and community advocacy is the most effective way to impact change among policy makers regarding an individual's rights. Perhaps the best examples of the efficacy of this type of advocacy was that (a) the decisions made in the courts became the hallmark of the original law, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (P. L. 94-142, 1975), which is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services 1997), and (b) that the intent of the law has been maintained for over twenty years. The long-term result has been a change in the political and philosophical attitude in this country toward public education (Morse, Paul, and Roselli-Kostoryz 1997).

Foundations For Public Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA-97) has its history in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During that time, individual human rights and equity in education were strongly debated issues around which laws and legislation were subsequently enacted during the 1970s. The legislation that stemmed from that era and that changed the educational experiences of children with disabilities was the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, known as Public Law 94-142.

Prior to the passage of P.L. 94-142 in 1975, over one million children were denied public education, and parents were blamed as the cause of their children's disability (Bettelheim 1967; Marcus 1977; Oliver, Cole, and Hollingsworth 1991). The parent-as-cause attitude permeated medical, social, and educational services. Parents were made to feel guilty and powerless, and many of children with disabilities were institutionalized or simply kept at home. The passage of P.L 94-142 was an important turning point because it shifted part of the responsibility of the education of children with disabilities to the government sector. It was designed to fund public education in order to provide both direct and indirect services and support for children with disabilities. The law also initiated the change from a parent-as-cause attitude to a parent-as-partner philosophy. As a result, today more than 5.8 million children with disabilities are in classrooms receiving services that will help prepare many of them for their f uture roles in our society (Schulte, Osborne, and Erchul 1998).

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