Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Dimensions of Family and Professional Partnerships: Constructive Guidelines for Collaboration

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Dimensions of Family and Professional Partnerships: Constructive Guidelines for Collaboration

Article excerpt

For several decades, family and professional collaborative partnering has been considered a recommended practice in effective service provision for children with disabilities. Many authors identify the importance of family and professional partnerships (Adelman & Taylor, 1997a, 1997b; Children's Aid Society, 1997; McKnight, 1995; Roberts, Rule, & Innocenti, 1998). The significance of partnerships in educational planning is evident in public policy, research, and federal legislation (Epstein, 2001; Nisbet, Covert, & Schuh, 1992; Osher & Osher, 2002). The concept of collaborative partnership between parents and schools in the design and implementation of special education programs is one of six principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) established by Congress (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2000). Other federal laws (e.g., Goals 2000, Title I, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Communities' and Children's Mental Health Systems Improvement Act) also emphasize the importance of ensuring partnerships between families and professionals (Epstein; Osher & Osher). There is increasing recognition that fostering collaborative partnerships with families leads to early dispute resolution and the prevention of more costly actions such as mediation, due process hearings, and litigation (Feinberg, Beyer, & Moses, 2002).

In early intervention, the term "family centered" describes recommended practices characterized by emphasis on family strengths, encouraging family choice and control over decisions about services, and collaborative relationships between parents and professionals (Bruder, 2000). Early intervention programs that are evaluated as being more "family focused" (i.e., that engage in meaningful partnerships between families and professionals) tend to foster a stronger sense of personal control and self-efficacy in parents (Trivette, Dunst, Boyd, & Hamby, 1995) and result in greater parent satisfaction with services (Applequist & Bailey, 2000). Bailey, McWilliam and colleagues (1998) noted that the expected outcomes for families of early intervention should include helping families gain a positive view of professionals and the special services system, and enhancing the family's perceived ability to work with professionals and advocate for services. In other words, early intervention should not only engage parents as collaborative partners while they receive services, but it should also prepare parents to become effective partners with special services they encounter as their child grows older.

Research indicates that parents and professionals alike define collaborative partnerships at least in part in terms of the quality of their interpersonal relationships with each other (McWilliam, Tocci, & Harbin, 1998). In a review of literature on service integration, Park and Turnbull (2003) created a framework distinguishing interpersonal and structural components of effective partnerships. They identified from the literature a series of interpersonal relationship attitudes, skills, values, and beliefs that appear to contribute to effective partnerships among families, professionals, and agencies. Interpersonal relationships among Early Head Start staff, Part C early interventionists, and parents were also found to be at the heart of effective collaboration in a five-state study of Early Head Start and Part C collaboration (Summers et al., 2001). Collaborative partnerships characterized by factors such as trust, respect, communication, shared vision, and cultural sensitivity were identified as critical for effective partnerships with families in decision making about augmentative communication (Parette, Brotherson, & Huer, 2000), inclusion (Soodak & Erwin, 2000), and serving children with problem behaviors (Park & Turnbull, 2002). Research also indicates that teachers favor interactions with parents that go beyond superficial, highly prescriptive notions of "parent involvement" (McWilliam, Maxwell, & Sloper, 1999; Sanders, 1999). …

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