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Parent-Professional Collaboration


Parents and professionals collaborate when they "work together in an equally reciprocal relationship that is based on mutual trust and caring" (NCSET, n.d., In parent-professional collaborations in special 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.

According to the National Center on Secondary Transition and Education (NCSET, n.d.), "The move toward collaboration is an effort to improve direct services for families and professionals, identify informal supports, and build communities for people with disabilities that are based on their culture, dreams, goals, priorities, and needs." Students increase in both achievement and attitude when families participate in education (Henderson & Berla, 1994, cited in NCSET, n.d.). Other benefits include improved student attendance, fewer discipline problems, and higher aspirations for school and career development (Caplan, Hall, Lubin, Fleming, 1997, cited in NCSET, n.d).

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. 

NCSET (n.d.) notes that parents may not only actively participate in their own child’s IEP planning and service provision but may also perform activities to assist other children, including:

  • Volunteering at the school
  • Assisting with a fund-raising effort
  • Helping with extracurricular activities
  • Advocating at the local, state, and national levels by participating on advisory and planning committees

To ensure the involvement and participation of parents beyond their own child, NCSET (n.d.) suggests that:

  • Families have opportunities to increase their own knowledge and skills
  • Families believe that they are equal partners with teachers and administrators
  • The school environment is accessible, caring, and welcoming.

"A number of environmental and emotional factors may form barriers for parents and professionals in their ability to establish an effective partnership" (Vosler-Hunter, 1989, p. 9). Some of these barriers are (Vosler-Hunter, 1989, pp, 9-11):

  • 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

"Cultural factors and the extent to which professionals recognize and honor cultural difference are a vital component for effective collaboration" (Vosler-Hunter, 1989). "As our communities become more diverse in culture, race, ethnic, and religious heritage, there are additional issues to consider. The challenges to involve families whose primary language is not English, who are recent immigrants with no formal school experience, for those in poverty and low socioeconomic status (SES) and for those who have had negative school experiences, it may be necessary to (NCSET, n.d.):

  • 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, or
  • Work with culturally specific community organizations that have created relationships of trust."

NCSET (n.d.) suggests that schools, families, and related organizations consider how well they foster parent-professional collaboration for youth with disabilities by asking themselves the following questions:

  1. "In what ways does my school or organization actively seek and/or provide opportunities for family involvement?
  2. 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?
  3. What strategies do we use to actively solicit feedback, ideas, comments, and concerns from families and their children with disabilities?
  4. What processes are in place to facilitate good communication between families and staff?"


National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. (n.d.) Parent/Professional collaboration topic. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute for Community Integration. Available at  

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. Available at


Related Reading

Trainor, Audrey, 2007. Parents as partners in transition focused education. (PowerPoint presentation). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Madison. Available at

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,. Available at here (URL is very long)

Mapp, K.L., Hall, S. & Bowmann, T. (2003). Making parents partners.  (Reading Rockets (Web cast with PowerPoint and transcript). Washington, DC: WETA. Available at

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


Resources Parent Involvement Page
" 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 Web page 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.




The development of this website was funded by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg
through a grant by the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services,
Florida Department of Education (2010 - 2011, 291-2621A-1C008).

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