Meaningful Family Involvement:
A Short Guide for Professionals

By Janet DesGeorges

Most Educators understand that the involvement of parents is critical to the success of educating deaf and hard of hearing students.  In a study by Moeller (2000) family involvement was measured by advocacy for the child, attendance and participation in education services, extended family support, ability to pursue information on their own, effective and independent language models and evidence of positive family adjustment.  In order to effectively implement parent involvement, a position paper of the Parent Empowerment Committee of the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council (Sept., 2000) was created to enhance the understanding of what meaningful parent participation embodies.  The following list comes from this document.

Principles of Family Involvement

Demonstrate family independence and contribution:

  • Develop a plan for identifying a diverse, representative group of families to participate.
  • During and after meetings, specifically recognize the value of the family's participation.
  • Recognize individual family strengths while respecting the different methods of coping and adjustment.
  • Demonstrate how Federal programs support families to attend national conferences.

Provide family identified supports to assist the family's participation:

  • Provide convenient meeting times and locations for family members.
  • Compensate families for their time, expertise, and expenses.
  • Clearly identify a staff person to be the primary contact person for reimbursement and other issues.  Be sure she/he understands that timely reimbursement and contacts are essential.
  • Develop provisions that ensure that parents are present to participate in policy related activities including direct staff support, stipends, travel expenses, and childcare.
  • Identify these supports in RFP's, (request for proposals) grants, and policy.
  • Provide complete, appropriate information prior to meetings in a timely manner.
  • Match veteran parents with inexperienced family members to ensure that new members feel supported in their roles as advisors and have the opportunity to share their ideas.
  • Consider incorporating a "family leave" policy so family members can choose an inactive role but maintain their membership should family circumstances require some time off.
  • Recognize that some family members may require more and different kinds of support than other to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Encourage and facilitate family-to-family support and networking.
  • Provide formal orientation for families and provide information for involving them:
  • Provide orientation to both family members and staff about the issues, participants, and process.
  • Provide informational support for parents to be prepared to participate as equal partners on a "level playing field" with their professional counterparts.
  • Provide technical assistance, leadership mentoring, training, and other parent leadership teaming.

Ensure diversity among family members:

  • Honor the racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of families.
  • Provide all materials in the families' preferred language.
  • Recruit broadly from the community and the population the program serves.
  • Bring in new families.
  • Adapt collaborative models to diverse cultures.  Manage changing distribution of power and responsibility.  Incorporate principles of collaboration into professional education.
  • Insure broad representation among parent groups based upon the community(s) in question.
  • Be particularly careful to include members of traditionally underserved groups.
  • Avoid any appearance of tokenism.

Be ready to hear what families say:

  • Encourage and support family members to find their voice.
  • Ensure that parent perspectives are not considered a separate component of the policymaking process, but instead are infused throughout.
  • Always consider an individual parent's story as being valid.

Respect the passion families have for change.

Celebrate the partnerships of working together for change:

  • Support staff in developing an understanding of the value of family participation.
  • Provide clear information about the goals of the board, task force, or committee and the role of individual members and the roles of family members.
  • Balance membership on committees between families and professionals.
  • Consider shared leadership - parent and professional co-chairs or teaming.

As parents, educators, administrators and other stakeholders in the state of Colorado continue to reform deaf education, our ability to create positive environments for meaningful parent participation will enhance our ability effectively educate deaf/hh students. 

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