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Gallaudet Univeristy
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Involving the Family

This information is part of an online guide, Resources for Mainstream Programs

The success of a student who is deaf or hard of hearing is often attributed to the support and involvement of the family. Parents, teachers, and researchers alike agree that children whose families are actively involved in their education reap greater benefits than children whose families are not. In a collaborative relationship, all sides benefit:

  • The school can help families understand their child's potential and provide them with support, information, and skills to promote their child's academic achievement, language, and social development.
  • The family can provide the school with critical information about their child, family, and community. The information parents have is invaluable, especially when the teacher and school are less familiar with educating a deaf child.
  • The student benefits from having all the adults in his or her life share an understanding and goals.


Below are considerations for sharing information, providing support to families with deaf or hard of hearing children, and helping families become active participants in their child's education. The success of these strategies largely depends upon each school's commitment to a truly collaborative relationship.

  • Listen and take seriously the family's concerns about their child's development. Parents and caregivers stress the importance of being heard by professionals and respected for their knowledge and insights about their own children. Many hearing families who have been learning what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing and who have been advocating for their child over the years possess insights and information that may be helpful to professionals in inclusive environments.
  • Be honest with parents. Provide families with all the information that is available; do not limit or censor the information provided. Encourage parents and caregivers to set high standards for their child, but do not create false expectations even if the information is not what they hope to hear. Effective relationships are built on trust, and parents and caregivers need to feel confident that the information they receive is complete, accurate, and honest.
  • Be knowledgeable about resources and specialists available in the community or in the state that may be able to provide support to families and specialized services to their children. Check into state commissions that address issues relevant to deaf people as well as national or regional parent organizations and agencies for deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Provide ongoing communication and language skill development for parents and other family members. Schedule workshops and classes at times and places that are convenient and welcoming to all families. Language and literacy development is largely dependent upon the quality of communication in the home. Provide opportunities for families to connect with deaf or hard of hearing adult role models. Adults who are deaf or hard of hearing can help families develop positive and realistic expectations for their child's future.
  • Survey families to identify information topics of interest to them. Plan workshops that include both topic experts and consumers. For example, vocational rehabilitation programs and services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals may be an area of interest to parents and caregivers of adolescents. Identify experienced vocational rehabilitation counselors as well as young adults and their families who have used these services to share information about opportunities that are available.
  • Provide families with the opportunity to meet with teachers and other specialists on a regular basis. For example, establish monthly early morning coffee meetings and welcome parents and caregivers to stop in to share information or concerns or to ask questions. In these meetings, be specific about ways in which families can participate in their children's education and the school.
  • Establish ways in which parents and caregivers can contact school personnel easily. Class web pages, voice and text mail messaging and e-mail are some options that invite family members to communicate directly with teachers and other school personnel.
  • Provide interpreters for families whose primary language is different from the language of the school to assure full access to all information and school functions.
  • Support and encourage families to advocate for their child's needs. Help families feel comfortable expressing their views even when those views differ from those of the teacher, school, or other professionals. Help families understand their legal rights, responsibilities, and the appropriate processes they need to follow to make changes in their child's program or services.
  • Be familiar with the communities and cultures of the families of the children in your school. Arrange meetings in the communities in which families live to share information about school programs, resources, and services.
  • Demonstrate respect for all families regardless of their economic situation, level of education, or ethnicity. For many families, having a child who is deaf or hard of hearing is a new and unknown experience. They may initially feel powerless or overwhelmed by new information they receive or the decisions they must make.
  • Establish a program such as Hands & Voices' "A Guide by Your Side" (see http://www.gbys.handsandvoices.com) that connects new families with more experienced families with whom they share some commonalities (e.g., cultural or linguistic background, age of children). Encourage families to get to know each other or organize "buddy systems" to welcome new students and their families.
  • Guide families in the use of telephone and video relay services (available phone operators who translate calls from voice to sign or text) so they can contact deaf adults for support and interaction. Parents and caregivers can use these communication devices to encourage their own children to connect with their deaf and hard of hearing peers.
  • Prepare newsletters about both school and community events that may be of interest to families with deaf or hard of hearing children. These newsletters can be used to share information and serve as reminders for upcoming events. Provide translations in other languages to ensure full access to everyone.
  • Plan special meetings at which a book or DVD/videotape on deaf issues is presented. This provides an opportunity for families to come together to share what they have found useful and to discuss ideas they have about raising and educating children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Encourage parents and caregivers to act as facilitators for these meetings.
  • Identify "room parents" for each class or age grouping in the school. Encourage each class to have at least one "parents only" event during the year for families to get to know each other. Parents and caregivers whose children are deaf or hard of hearing may have fewer opportunities to get to know the other families if their children are not included in social activities. This "parents only" event will allow families to get to know the other families of the children in their child's school.
  • Make available a family resource room or area in the school where parents and caregivers will feel comfortable and where they can read, watch a DVD/videotape on educational issues, practice signing, borrow materials, or work on a school project.
  • Show families that you value and welcome their involvement and that they are important enough to warrant their own space in the school.
  • Offer opportunities for families from various language and ethnic communities to meet and form support networks. For example, organize meetings with Hispanic or Asian parents.
  • Plan school events and programs in consultation with individuals from various communities associated with the school. Make it easier for families to attend school functions by scheduling them at times that are convenient for working parents. Provide transportation, child care, and refreshments.

Resources

American Society for Deaf Children http://www.deafchildren.org/

Benedict, B., & Raimondo, R. (2003). Family rights, legislation, and policies: What professionals need to know to promote family involvement and advocacy. In B. Bodner-Johnson and M. Sass-Lehrer (Eds.), The young deaf or hard of hearing child: A family-centered approach to early education. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University http://www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/center.htm

Hallau, M. (Ed.). (2002). We are equal partners: Recommended practices for involving families in their child's educational program. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

Hands & Voices http://www.handsandvoices.org

Marsharck, M. (2007). Raising and educating a deaf child: A comprehensive guide to the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by parents and educators (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Meadow-Orlans, K., Mertens, D., & Sass-Lehrer, M. (2003). Parents and their deaf children: The early years. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Sass-Lehrer, M. (2002). Early beginnings for families with deaf and hard of hearing children: Myths and facts of early intervention and guidelines for effective services. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center.

Spencer, P., Erting, C., & Marschark, M. (Eds.). (2000). The deaf child in the family and at school: Essays in honor of Kathryn P. Meadow-Orlans. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Stewart, D., & Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1998). The signing family: What every parent should know about sign communication. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.