Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Measuring Family Outcomes in Early Intervention: Findings from a Large-Scale Assessment

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Measuring Family Outcomes in Early Intervention: Findings from a Large-Scale Assessment

Article excerpt

From its inception, early intervention for children with disabilities has been grounded in a fundamental assumption of the value and necessity of working with families. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act states that there is a need "to enhance the capacity of families to meet the special needs of their infants and toddlers with disabilities" (Pub. Law No. 108-446, 2004, Sec. 631 (a)). Part C early intervention programs are required to involve families in assessing the needs of the child and in selecting services. Research has shown that children spend the majority of time with their families in everyday routines and activities (Bruder, 2001; Jung, 2003), and their needs cannot be addressed without taking into account the family context (Carpenter, 1997; Sameroff & Fiese, 2000). Other studies have demonstrated the value of using family-centered practices by creating partnerships between professionals and families (Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004; Dunlap & Fox, 2007; Krauss, 1997; Turnbull, Turbiville, & Turnbull, 2000), engaging in help-giving practices (Dunst, 2000; Trivette & Dunst, 2005), and Using routines-based assessment (McWilliam, 2005).

Although the field has focused on best practices in working with families (Horn, Ostrosky, & Jones, 2004) and satisfaction with services (McNaughton, 1994; McWilliam, Lang, Vandiviere, Angell, Collins, & Underdown, 1995), relatively little research has addressed the outcomes or benefits that families ought to experience as a result of their child's participation in early intervention. Assessing family outcomes, and not merely documenting professional practices, is the key to evaluating the efficacy of programs (Bailey, 2001; Dempsey & Keen, 2008; Early Childhood Research Institute on Measuring Growth and Development, 1998; Roberts, Innocenti, & Goetze, 1999). But what are the specific benefits or outcomes that families ought to attain?

Drawing on an early framework for conceptualizing family outcomes (Bailey et al., 1998), the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study (NEILS) found that at the end of early intervention, families felt competent in caring for their child's special needs, advocating for services, and obtaining formal and informal supports. However, selected family demographics were associated with outcome attainment, with parents of minority children or single adult households reporting lower outcomes (Bailey et al., 2005). Complementary research on parenting supports (e.g., Dunst, 1999), empowerment (e.g., Thompson et al., 1997), and quality of life (e.g., Park et al., 2003) exists; however, these are more narrowly defined areas of work and do not encompass a broader perspective of family outcomes.

Recent requirements from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education have reinforced the need to examine family outcomes. Following the enactment of the Government Performance Results Act of 1993, federal agencies are mandated to report to Congress on the accountability of programs that receive federal funding. Each year, early intervention programs are required to demonstrate their effectiveness by measuring and reporting both child and family outcomes.

To assist with this effort, OSEP funded the Early Childhood Outcomes (ECO) Center (www.the-eco-center.org) in 2003 to promote the development and implementation of child and family outcome measures for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities that could be used in local, state, and national accountability systems. Because there was no consensus on the most important benefits for families, an evidenced-based process was used to define and recommend a core set of family outcomes that should result from early intervention (Bailey, Bruder, et al., 2006). An extensive literature review was initially conducted by researchers at the ECO Center to create an empirical and theoretical framework for the process. …

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