Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Meaning of Family-Professional Partnerships: Japanese Mothers' Perspectives

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Meaning of Family-Professional Partnerships: Japanese Mothers' Perspectives

Article excerpt

The current trend in Japanese special education and social welfare fields is best characterized as a transition to the new era. Japanese governmental departments that oversee these two fields have published reports announcing their policy reform frameworks and restructuring plans (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science, & Technology Japan, 2001, 2003; Ministry of Health, Labour, & Welfare of Japan, 1998). The special education field (as well as other disciplines) in the United States has also undergone a significant paradigm shift that involves rethinking ways to deliver services and work with families of children with disabilities. Special education and social welfare fields in the United States have embraced the concept of family-centered practice that values family choice and believes in the family's inherent strengths and capabilities (Mien & Petr, 1996). These disciplines have also embraced the concept of family--professional partnerships, which values equality (Allen & Petr; Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004; Cunningham & Davis, 1985; DeChillo, Koren, & Schultze, 1994; Turnbull, Turbiville, & Turnbull, 2000), interdependence (Bond & Keys, 1993; Cunningham & Davis; Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001); and joint decision making as well as mutual benefit (Dunst & Paget, 1991; Turnbull & Turnbull).

Close examination of the Japanese government's restructuring plans reveals two emerging needs regarding family-centered philosophy and family professional partnerships. First, little consensus exists between special education and social welfare about how the family is considered within their policy and service-provision frameworks. In a report that describes a new framework within the Japanese special education field, families are barely visible (see Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science, & Technology Japan, 2001, 2003). The report lacks the perspective of family support and involvement and sees the decision-making power of families as subordinate to that of professionals. In contrast, the Japanese social welfare field has adopted a perspective similar to the family-centered philosophy in the United States that attends to the whole family as a unit to be supported (Nakano et al., 1998). It has also adopted the principle of consumerism and gives consumers power to choose services (Ministry of Health, Labour, & Welfare of Japan, 1998). This lack of consensus between special education and social welfare will likely confuse families who interact with both worlds.

The second need addresses working relationships between families and professionals. Although the report on the social welfare restructuring plan addresses "equal relationships between people who provide services and who receive them" (Ministry of Health, Labour, & Welfare of Japan, 1998), as one of its seven goals, no further discussion occurs on what "equal relationships" mean and what is needed to establish them. Additionally, there is a void of research-based information and knowledge to foster such discussions. The absence of research and discussions on desirable family-professional partnerships is even more significant in special education in the new framework report, which lacks any attention to this issue. A literature search of several major Japanese research databases confirmed the significant shortage of research related to partnerships between families of individuals with disabilities and professionals. In spite of such low attention from policymakers and researchers, family--professional partnerships are considered an important factor in the context of service delivery and often become the focus of informal discussions among people involved in the partnerships (e.g., Kodama, 1998). Moreover, considering that services and political actions ultimately will be carried out through human relationships, the need to strengthen research-based knowledge and discussions related to this issue should be a priority. …

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