Academic journal article School Community Journal

Fostering Family-Centered Practices through a Family-Created Portfolio

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Fostering Family-Centered Practices through a Family-Created Portfolio

Article excerpt


When a child has disabilities, families and professionals must communicate their concerns and goals for the child. Often these concerns are expressed as weaknesses within a deficits-based framework. The use of a strengths-based, family-created portfolio is a communication strategy for reconceptualizing a child from the family's perspective in terms of individuality, strengths, and motivations. This article takes a narrative approach to present one family's experience with a portfolio system in order to personalize the discussion and interpret the possible utilization of this family-generated portfolio as an aid for families communicating the needs of their child to educators. A family-created portfolio is a practice that gives families more control over their involvement by providing them with an opportunity to express their child's individuality beyond who the child is perceived as at school.

Key Words: family-centered practices, strengths-based, portfolios, children, disabilities, needs, transition, Kindergarten, special education, qualitative inquiry, family, families, early childhood, IEP, communication, home, school


"I am so happy that you could be here tonight!" I (lead author) greeted Ms. Reese at the door, not realizing that I would also be greeting her daughter, her son, her mother, her grandmother, her brother, and her two sisters.

"Wow! You brought your whole family; that is wonderful." I was surprised to see them all.

"Well, Ana told me to bring the family, and this is my family," explained Ms. Reese.

"We had to all see this portfolio," said one of Ms. Reese's sisters.

"Yeah, I helped finish it you know. Look here, I did this page." Ms. Reese's other sister opens Shandrika's portfolio and shows me a brightly colored page of all of Shandrika's favorite things..."Song: I LIKE ALL MUSIC AND I LOVE TO DANCE; Games: JUMPING, GETTING TICKLE." Further down the page next to the prompt "Favorite Pets or Animals" was a cut out photograph of a stuffed dog and a blue plastic monkey sitting on Shandrika's bed with the words "Mommy will only do batteries" written beside it. (Note: all names used throughout are pseudonyms.)

When young children are receiving special education services, professionals and family members are required by law to meet to discuss the needs of the child. Often expressed through the child's weaknesses and inabilities, these discussions may fail to acknowledge the child's strengths and assets. This affects how early childhood educators perceive the child (Volk & Long, 2005). This article will discuss literature around communication between families with young children with disabilities and schools and an example of a possible remedy to deficit-based language.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that primary caregivers are invited to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings for their child, but beyond that, family participation is defined by informal interactions between school and family (Petr, 2003). IEPs are the formal documented source of communication between families and teachers. During IEP conferences, children's scholastic information should be shared with the family members in attendance, but those family members should also have the opportunity to share information about their child at home and in other community settings (Adelsward & Nilholm, 1998). Although all IEP team members should feel welcome to participate in the decision-making process, often other factors (i.e., the culture of the school, values of team members) dictate who shares what information, when they share, and their level of influence on the final IEP document (Dabkowski, 2004).

Trivette and Dunst (2005) define family-based practices for early interventionists and early childhood special educators as those practices that "provide or mediate the provision of resources and supports necessary for families to have the time, energy, knowledge, and skills to provide their children with learning opportunities and experiences that promote child competence and development" (p. …

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