Family-Professional Collaboration

In parent-professional collaborations in exceptional education, families not only participate as equal partners in their child’s Individual Educational Plan assessment and planning process but also take part in a broad array of education activities to assist their own child and other children. Parents and professionals collaborate when they "work together in an equally reciprocal relationship that is based on mutual trust and caring" (NCSET, n.d.,

Schools, families and related organizations may use the following questions to consider how well they foster parent-professional collaboration for youth with disabilities:

  • "In what ways does my school or organization actively seek and/or provide opportunities for family involvement?
  • Are most of the families represented by my school or organization involved in the transition planning process for their child? If not, how can we make this a positive experience for them so that they will increase their involvement in the future?
  • What strategies do we use to actively solicit feedback, ideas, comments, and concerns from families and their children with disabilities?
  • What processes are in place to facilitate good communication between families and staff?" (NCSET, n.d.)

Family Involvement at Home and in the Community

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) notes that the importance of family involvement and interactions are not limited to the school setting. There may be unexplored opportunities for families to intentionally increase productive interactions in their own backyards. The CEC lists the following suggestions to engage students at home and in the community:

  • Family Routines (cooking meals, folding laundry)
  • Parenting Routines (morning activities, bedtime)
  • Child Routines (dressing, grooming)
  • Literacy Activities (storytelling, reading together)
  • Physical Play/Entertainment (exercise, music, movies)
  • Family Rituals (family talks, family gatherings)
  • Family Celebrations (birthdays, holidays)
  • Family Outings (museums concerts, libraries)
  • Community Events (supporting civic projects that benefit people in need or the environment)
  • Outdoor Activities (sports, parades)
  • Recreational Activities (swimming, tennis, biking)

Collaboration During the IEP Process

Parents should have a voice in all discussions and decisions related to the education of their children. A key aspect of Florida’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is parent involvement and buy-in during the planning and goal setting.The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) specifically requires parents/guardians/surrogate parents to be partners in developing, reviewing, and revising the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for their child. Parents are encouraged to become involved in the education of their children, not only because it is their right, but also because students are positively influenced by parental/family involvement. Individual Educational Plan (IEP) meetings are a critical time for parental presence and input. Schools place a high priority on parent participation on the IEP team and will provide written notice about the day and time of IEP meetings. Additional information about parent rights is available on the Center for Parent Information & Resources (Questions and Answers about IDEA, 2010).

Parent involvement in the IEP process is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and promoted by the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP) of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), initiated in 1984 (Vosler-Hunter, 1989, p. 4). IDEA regulations require that "one or both of the parents of a child with a disability are present at each IEP Team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate" (Section 300.322, CFR). Parent-professional collaboration moves beyond participation in the IEP process.

Additional Collaborative Factors to Consider

Cultural Competency. Cultural sensitivity is needed on all sides to establish the respectful environment required for effective collaboration. As our communities become more diverse in culture, race, ethnicity and religious heritage, thoughtful consideration is essential for productive partnerships to form. It is especially important to reach out to families whose primary language is not English, who are recent immigrants with no formal school experience, for those low socioeconomic status (SES) and for those who have had negative school experiences. Consider using the following strategies:

  • Hire community outreach staff who represent those communities and can meet with groups of people throughout the community or individually in their homes.
  • Build trust and personal relationships with families of diverse backgrounds [in order to] support their involvement and understanding of educational expectations.
  • Create a family mentoring program.
  • Develop a family survey to ask families how they would like to be involved.
  • Work with culturally specific community organizations that have created relationships of trust (NCSET, n.d.).

Potential Barriers to Overcome. Be aware of environmental and/or emotional factors that may create barriers between families and service providers. Some of these barriers are as follows :

  • Families’ stress of caring for children with disabilities
  • Physical and psychological toll of caring for a child with disabilities
  • Lack of coordination among service providers
  • Frequent meetings with a number of service providers
  • Unclear communication from service providers
  • Unreasonable delays in receiving service
  • Exhausted family resources
  • Lack of resources such as respite and child care, transportation and appropriate education for the child
  • Cultural factors and cultural differences with service providers (Vosler-Hunter, 1989, pp, 9-11)

Outreach to Families. A longitudinal study, the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, reported on family involvement in their child’s education. The encouraging results are summarized as follows:

  • To a large extent, parents of students with disabilities were very involved in their children’s education.
  • Parents of a child with an IEP attend parent-teacher conferences at a higher rate than parents of a child without an IEP.
  • On average, students with disabilities received almost three times as much help with homework as their peers.
  • In addition, to help in the home, a large majority of the parents with children with disabilities were involved at the school level in school-based activities, parent-teacher associations (PTA), and conferences with teachers and other students.
  • Over a third of all parents interviewed expressed that they would like to be more involved in their children’s education and schooling (Lipscomb et al., 2017).

These findings are motivational. School personnel can increase outreach to parents and facilitate involvement in their child’s education, in goal-setting and in monitoring the progress towards goal achievement. Schools may want to encourage the formation of parent-to-parent support groups where parents of children with disabilities can help each other by providing support, encouragement and information from a position of shared experiences.

Related Reading - Parent Involvement
" is an award-winning federal Web site that contains disability-related resources on programs, services, laws and regulations to help people with disabilities lead full, independent lives." This site provides links to numerous resources related to parent involvement.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
NCSET’s Web site contains a number of resources on topics such as parent-professional collaboration, IEP and transition planning, self-determination, service coordination, aligning school and community resources, and more.

PACER Center
PACER provides information, support, workshops, and referrals to both families of children with disabilities (birth through 21 years) and professionals. Resources include the Simon Technology Center, Health Information and Advocacy Center and programs focusing on employment, grandparents, housing, and bullying prevention.

Sheehey, P.H., & Sheehey, P.E. (2007, November). Elements for successful parent-professional collaboration: The fundamental things apply as time goes by. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 4, 2. Retrieved from

Mapp, K.L., Hall, S. & Bowmann, T. (2003). Making parents partners. (Reading Rockets (Webcast with PowerPoint and transcript). Washington, DC: WETA. Retrieved from

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (August, 2005). Meeting the challenge: Getting parents involved in schools. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from


Lipscomb, S., Haimson, J., Liu, A.Y., Burghardt, J., Johnson, D.R., & Thurlow, M.L. (2017). Preparing for life after high school: The characteristics and experiences of youth in special education. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012. Volume 1: Comparisons with other youth: Full report (NCEE 2017-4016). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. (n.d.) Parent/Professional collaboration topic. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute for Community Integration. Retrieved from /family/default.asp?topic=29

Questions and answers about IDEA: Parent participation. (2010). Retrieved from

Vosler-Hunter, R.W., (1989). Changing roles, changing relationships: Parent-professional collaboration on behalf of children with emotional disabilities. Portland, OR: Portland State University, Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from /detail?accno=ED332414