Family Involvement

Family involvement practices increase the ability of family members to work effectively with educators and service providers in planning and delivering education and transition services.

A literature review conducted by the National Center on Secondary Transition Education and the National Postschool Outcomes Center (Test, Fowler, & Kohler, 2013) found that:

  • Parental expectations were an evidence-based predictor of post-school success in education and employment.
  • Parental involvement was an evidence-based predictor of post-school success in employment.

Family involvement in a student’s education is mandated by the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) and promoted by the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP) of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Students increase in both achievement and attitude when families participate in education (Henderson & Berla, 1994). Other benefits include improved student attendance, fewer discipline problems, and higher aspirations for school and career development (Caplan, Hall, Lubin, Fleming, 1997).

IDEA requires school systems to ensure that parents have the opportunity to participate if they choose to do so. The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities summarizes parents’ rights under the Act as follows:

  • Parents have the right to participate in meetings related to the evaluation, identification, and educational placement of their child.
  • Parents have the right to participate in meetings related to the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to their child.
  • Parents are entitled to be members of any group that decides whether their child is a "child with a disability" and meets eligibility criteria for special education and related services.
  • Parents are entitled to be members of the team that develops, reviews, and revises the individualized education program (IEP) for their child. If neither parent can attend the IEP meeting, the school must use other methods to ensure their participation, including individual or conference calls.
  • Parents are entitled to be members of any group that makes placement decisions for their child. If neither parent can attend the meeting where placement is decided, the school must use other methods to ensure their participation, including individual or conference calls, or video conferencing." (Retrieved from

In its publication "Seven Indicators of a Quality Transition System", the Behavioral Institute for Children and Adolescents lists the following indicators relating to family involvement:

  • Family members regularly attend all transition planning meetings.
  • Family members are listened to and their ideas are respected.
  • Family members are involved in all decisions that are made by the transition team.
  • Accommodations are made to involve family members in the planning process (e.g., times and locations of transition planning meeting are flexible).
  • Family members and professionals reach consensus regarding student outcomes.
  • Information is provided to families about transition in a variety of formats.
  • Methods and procedures to assist families to envision the future are in place.
  • Professionals are trained in family-friendly practices.

A key aspect of Florida’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is parent involvement and buy-in during the planning and goal setting. The Florida DOE specifically requires that parents/guardians/surrogate parents must be partners in developing, reviewing, and revising the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for their child. The Florida Rule Implementation Brief, Rule 6A-6.03028, contains specific rules for parental participation, meeting notification and meeting scheduling.

In reality, families are involved in their children’s education in a variety of ways and in varying intensities. A longitudinal study, the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, described parental involvement in their child’s education as follows:

  • To a large extent, parents of students with disabilities were very involved in their children’s education.
  • 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.

These findings may encourage teachers to reach out more to parents and encourage their involvement in their child’s education, in goal-setting, and in monitoring the progress towards achieving goals. Also, schools may 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 people who know what they are experiencing.

See Family Involvement and Parent-Professional Collaboration in our A-Z Library Glossary for additional information and resources.

Resources and Research

NEW! Secondary Transition Roadmap for Families 
Project 10 has just released a fresh, new resource that will assist families to become familiar with graduation and post-school options available to students with disabilities. This eight-page booklet, Secondary Transition Roadmap for Families, shares easy-to-follow directions that guide families and students toward transition destinations- to graduation and beyond.

Beach Center on Disability   
Located at the University of Kansas, the Beach Center's goal is to improve the quality of life for families and individuals affected by disability through research, teaching, technical assistance, service, and a resource library.

Family Involvement Research Digests 
This research digest from the Harvard Family Research Project examines the following questions for students with disabilities receiving special education in secondary schools:

  • To what extent do families of secondary-school-age students with disabilities engage in activities at home and at school that support their children's educational development?
  • What are the relationships between student and family characteristics and levels of family involvement?

Parent Involvement: Exceptional Student Education
The parent involvement website from the Bureau of Exceptional Student Education and Student Services (BEESS) features information for parents of students receiving exceptional student education (ESE) services in Florida, including related contacts and resources. . 

Parent and Family Involvement Annotated Bibliography Prepared for NSTTAC
The National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC) provides evidence-based practices on a number of topics including family involvement.  

Transition Information for Parents
The PACER Center, a national parent training and information center for families of children and youth with all disabilities from birth through 21 years old, provides publications, best practices, workshops, and other resources to help parents make decisions about education, vocational training, employment, and other services for their children.

Harvard Family Research Project (HFR)
HFR helps stakeholders develop and evaluate strategies to promote the well being of children, youth, families, and their communities in three areas which support children’s learning and development—early childhood education, out-of-school time programming, and family and community support in education—with a commitment to evaluation for strategic decision making, learning, and accountability. HFR focuses on complementary learning, the idea that a systemic approach integrating  school and nonschool supports can better ensure that all children have the skills they need to succeed.

National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS2)
The National Center for Education Research is conducting this study funded by the U.S. Department of Education to document the experiences of a national sample of special education students as they moved from secondary school into adult roles. Data focuses on a wide range of important topics, such as high school coursework, extracurricular activities, academic performance, postsecondary education and training, employment, independent living, and community participation. Data were collected in part through interviews with youth, parents, and educators.

What Parents and Caregivers Can Ask and Do to Help Children Thrive at School: A Parent Checklist 
The U.S. Department of Education, America Achieves, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) collaborated to develop a parent checklist with questions and resources that parents and caregivers can use to help ensure their children are getting the education they deserve. The checklist suggests key questions, tips for educational success and resources for more information.

References and Related Reading

Caplan, J., Hall, G., Lubin, S., & Fleming, R. (1997). Pathways to school improvement (1997). Literature Review of School-Family Partnerships. Retrieved March, 2002. 

Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. St. Louis, MO: Danforth Foundation and Flint, MI: Mott Foundation.

Test, D.W., Fowler, C.H., Richter, S.M., White, J., Mazzotti, V., Walker, A.R., Kohler, P., & Kortering, L. (2009, August). Evidence-based practices in secondary transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32, 115-128. 

Test, D.W., Fowler, C., and Kohler, P. (2013, January). Evidence-based practices and predictors in secondary transition: What we know and what we still need to know. Charlotte, NC: National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center.