EI Talk: A Blog for Early
Childhood Professionals

Engaging Families

Velma Bakarr (GUCEI’22) April 11, 2022

Being in the Early Childhood Field, specifically working with Early Head Start (EHS) children and families, three contemporary issues cause me to pause and reflect on my work: barriers to family involvement/engagement, effects of COVID, and collaboration with families.

There is a difference between the meaning of family involvement and family engagement. Family involvement indicates that parents are doing what is asked by the school. This includes parents showing up for parent-teacher conferences, open houses, classroom visits, etc. However, parent involvement does not equate to parental engagement. Parental engagement refers to parents being present in every aspect of their child’s education. It is more than showing up. Family engagement means working together with providers. Parent engagement is critical to creating a successful learning environment for the child.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers that prevent parents from being involved/engaged in their child’s education. Some of those barriers include poverty, lack of childcare, scheduling conflicts, fear, distrust, misunderstanding, cultural beliefs, and feeling unwelcome. I have firsthand experience with many of these examples. One example was when I facilitated family meetings. I observed many times where my EHS families would not show up to these meetings; often due to lack of childcare, multiple family obligations, transportation difficulties, domestic violence, and lack of adequate housing. The barriers were so many. It is critical that we, as teachers and other service providers, respect these realities.

The effects of COVID have a profound impact on the way providers interact with children and families. As a Head Start Coach, I have witnessed the difference in how teachers and parents interact and how teachers interact with children. I have come across many complaints from families who do not get the opportunity to see or speak with their child’s teacher. This is partly due to the restrictions resulting from the COVID pandemic and parents not allowed in the building. Although teachers are trying to establish and maintain virtual ways to communicate with families, this is also a challenge considering the environment, family circumstances, scheduling, and lack of access to technology to name a few of the barriers that prevent families from attending any virtual meetings.

Collaboration is a key behavior that can help engage families. Parents are the child’s first teacher. They know their children more than the providers, they see their children in all aspects of their development, and they are the experts. Therefore, providers should always aim to problem solve and work collaboratively with families for the betterment of the child.

Although challenges are many and varied, service providers who take the time to develop a relationship with families and understand their unique circumstances will increase the likelihood that a long-term collaboration will be created to the benefit of the child’s growth and development.

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Parents with Intellectual and Other Developmental Disabilities (IDD)

Anna Missner (GU ’22), Anna Zdunek (GU ’22), Kat Bouker (GU ’24), Katherine DeMatteo (GU ’22), Annie Foley (GU ’22), Wegahta Habtemichael (GU’ 22) March 15, 2022

Parenting, in general, is a challenge. It is full of highs and lows, and parents have many questions about whether they are doing what is absolutely best for their children. Parents with intellectual disabilities not only have to face the challenges that inherently come with parenting, but they face the added threats of stigmatization, poverty, and disproportionate interference from child protective services (MacIntyre et al., 2019; Slayter & Jensen, 2019). Given this stigmatization, the children of parents with IDD are more likely to be taken from their parents and placed into the foster care system (Sigurjonsdottir & Rice, 2018). The perception of parents with intellectual disabilities as incompetent, vulnerable, and generally unfit to parent create difficulties for these parents to gain help when they need it.

The general belief in our society is that children with an intellectually disabled parent must be separated from this parent in order to avoid abuse and/or neglect. Removing a child from their home and placing them into foster care can be traumatizing and developmentally harmful. Unfortunately, despite knowing the dangers and damaging implications, our social systems are often more eager to separate children from their intellectually disabled parents than provide proper support and guidance. Why? Yes, funding might be part of the issue, but these support systems have an obligation to protect the children and their parents. The reason is that services fail to recognize that parents with intellectual disabilities are just as capable of receiving help and parenting as any non-disabled parent.

An intellectual disability does not negate one’s ability to parent successfully. Research has found that a vast array of factors contribute to effective parenting, none of which include the presence/absence of an intellectual disability. Factors that contribute to successful parenting include being married, having adequate support, having few children, parental motivation and willingness to accept support, strong physical and mental health, low stress, financial stability, and more (The Arc, 2011). While having an intellectual disability makes one more likely to face difficulty in many of these domains, including physical health, mental health, stress, and financial stability, the presence of an intellectual disability itself is not enough to terminate the rights of parents. Therefore, child protection systems, school systems, physicians, mental health practitioners, etc. must work with intellectually disabled parents to help them cultivate these attributes of successful parenting rather than deny them supports.

Current efforts to change how systems interact with intellectually disabled parents are looking promising. Organizations like the Georgetown University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) are doing amazing work to create real change and support for these parents. Clarissa Williamson, a home visitor with Georgetown University’s Parenting Support Program (PSP), works directly with parents that have intellectual disabilities in order to provide them with a wide range of services. Ms. Williamson administers mental health screenings, teaches healthy parenting practices, provides referrals to community resources, explains any information from physicians, teachers, or other professionals in simpler (plain) language. As a result, the parents she works with are successfully raising their children. Thus, when service providers take the time to understand parents with intellectual disabilities, adapt to their specific learning needs, help them develop, and build on their strengths, unwanted outcomes such as child abuse and neglect can be easily avoided. Ultimately, society must stop viewing intellectually disabled parents as incapable and must begin to understand that with proper guidance and support, parents with intellectual disabilities can parent just as effectively as any other parent.


MacIntyre, C., Stewart, A., & McGregor, S. (2019). The double‐edged sword of vulnerability: Explaining the persistent challenges for practitioners in supporting parents with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 32(6), 1523–1534. http://doi:10.1111/jar.12647.

Sigurjonsdottir, H. B., & Rice, J. G. (2018). ‘Evidence’ of neglect as a form of structural violence: Parents with intellectual disabilities and custody deprivation. Social Inclusion, 6(2), 66-73. http://doi.org/10.17645/si.v6i2.1344.

Slayter, E. M., & Jensen, J. (2019). Parents with intellectual disabilities in the child protection system. Children and Youth Services Review, 98: 297-304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.01.013

The Arc. (2011). Parents with Intellectual Disabilities.

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Barriers to Widespread International Adoption of Inclusive Education

Sophia Nunn (GU’21), Nick Young (GU ’21), Daria Arzy (GU ’21), Jeewon Eom (GU ’22), Jennifer Guo (GU ’23) , and Abigail Ludwigson (GU ’21) February 15, 2022
drawing of kids from different races holding hand in a circle including two in wheelchairs

Representatives of 92 governments and 25 international organizations attended the World Conference on Special Needs Education in 1992 producing the UNESCO Salamanca Statement, a guiding framework that called for inclusive education to be the new international standard in education. The primary objective of the statement was to create systems of education where all learners mattered equally and thus had equal access to a quality education regardless of physical or intellectual disability. The Salamanca Statement lauds inclusive schools as being “…the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all” (Ainscow et al., 2019). Despite international agreement on the merits of inclusive education, it still has yet to be implemented effectively in a widespread manner in countries with a varying range of levels of economic development. In the United States, 95% of disabled children spend part of their day in a regular education classroom (US Department of Education, 2018); this compares to the 65.3% and 29% of disabled children segregated into special-ed schools in France (Linertová at al., 2019) and South Korea (Republic of Korea Ministry of Education) respectively, and 61% of disabled children in Kenya who do not attend primary school at all (Odongo, 2018).

Even though over 25 years have passed since the signing of the Salamanca Statement, myriad factors have impeded full implementation of inclusive education. To gain insight as to why, we can generalize the social, political, and economic environments increasing barriers to inclusive education observed in studies focusing on particular nations. For instance, one 2018 article in the International Journal of Inclusive Education analyzed the barriers specific to Kenya, concluding that limitations in familial involvement in the education of disabled children is a major hindrance in its progression.

Many parents, especially in rural areas of Kenya, are unable to access important services for their children due to stigma, poverty, and a general lack of awareness of the existing resources available to them (Odongo, 2018). Firstly, due to negative cultural beliefs concerning disability, many families feel shame in communicating their child’s needs to teachers and other professionals, making it unlikely to develop a productive, individualized education and even preventing parents from sending their children to school entirely (Odongo, 2018). Secondly, parents, especially if they are disabled themselves, may struggle to afford the healthcare and rehabilitation services necessary for their child’s disability, making it nearly impossible to pay for textbooks and other learning materials that are not provided by public funds (Odongo, 2018). Furthermore, classroom sizes are often far too large to provide individualized attention to students, given that there is already a severe lack of funding for technologies that would facilitate learning, such as constructing physically accessible classrooms and training teachers to specialize in instructing children with disabilities (Odongo, 2018). Perhaps most importantly, in Kenya and many other countries, no legislation currently guarantees a child will not be turned away from a school due to their access needs.

Although poverty certainly exacerbates the problems associated with providing equal education for all, developed nations still struggle with the same issues. In an interview with Jin-gap Jang, a project director at a South Korean private school practicing inclusive education, he noted that their classrooms were still overwhelmingly populated by nondisabled students. He attributed this both to government quotas on the number of disabled students allowed per teacher, as well as the resources that the school had at its disposal to properly accommodate them. He also noted that many segregated special education schools still exist and were hidden away from the general public in the countryside. These two examples speak to a pronounced stigma attached to disability that still exists in societies all over the world. Public perception and policy seem to go hand in hand, and in envisioning a future that truly provides equal education for all, governments, as well as advocacy groups, need to continue to make every effort to change negative attitudes held about disability and exclusionary policies that continue to give them legitimacy.


Ainscow, M., Slee, R., & Best, M. (2019). Editorial: the Salamanca Statement: 25 years on, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23:7-8, 671-676. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2019.1622800

Linertová, R., González-Guadarrama, J., Serrano-Aguilar, P., Posada-De-la-Paz, M., Péntek, M., Iskrov, G., & Ballester, M. (2019). Schooling of Children with Rare Diseases and Disability in Europe. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 66(4), 362–373. https://doi.org/10.1080/1034912X.2018.1562159

Odongo, George. "Barriers to Parental/Family Participation in the Education of a Child with Disabilities in Kenya." International Journal of Special Education 33.1 (2018): 21-33.

Republic of Korea Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Special Education. Ministry of Education.

US Department of Education. (2018). 40th annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2018.

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Accessibility to Mental Health Services for Children: How Can We Improve?

Pham January 24, 2022

Mental health disorders can be detrimental to many aspects of life, including relationships, employment, long-term health effects, etc. According to the American Disability Act, mental impairment that substantially limits at least one significant life activity is considered a disability. More often than not, a mental health disability can lead to a financial burden to patients, families, and society (Drake et al., 2012). A report on mental health disability from an international perspective found that the rate of mental health disability is growing dramatically in free-market countries like the US. Furthermore, the prevalence of mental health disorders in children is as high as 13.4% (Polanczyk et al., 2015), which will be the focus of this blog.

Unless treated, mental health problems in children can persist from childhood through adulthood (Anderson et al., 2017). While mental health disorders are common among children, there are barriers to mental health services, which prevent them from receiving the help they need. As we know, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic over a year ago. Reports in late 2020 show evidence of declined mental health in children due to social isolation and loneliness from lockdown (Loades et al., 2020). Moreover, the pandemic increases children’s vulnerability to depression, stress, anxiety, avoidance behavior, and PTSD (Thakur et al., 2020). With the pandemic passing over us, we need to address the barriers to mental health services now more than ever.

Mental health services should be accessible to everyone as it has proven to be an essential component of overall health. Service-level barriers for access and engagement have been highlighted by different groups of users (Anderson et al., 2017). These barriers include lack of knowledge about available services, difficulty access and stress associated with the help-seeking process, extensive wait time, and financial restrictions. In addition, vulnerable populations like children and families living in poverty experience the barriers to a greater extent (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). Removing these barriers will help address rising rates of mental health disability (Drake et al., 2012).

In current literature, several methods had been proposed to tackle the barriers to mental health services, with policy change as the primary target. A on international trends suggests shifting to the prepayment system from out-of-pocket payment systems widely used in many countries (Drake et al., 2012). One benefit highlighted by the article is that the prepayment system allows individuals with low socioeconomic status to receive the equivalent healthcare as the wealthier people. Additionally, a different study recommends that we address a set of complementary policies, rather than focusing on just one lever, such as insurance-based policy lever, to manage multiple outcomes at the same time to see a population-level impact (So et al., 2019). Outside of the policy realm, one study suggests increased training of pediatric primary care physicians (PCP) as vulnerable children and families are more likely to use a pediatric PCP as a resource of mental health services (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). Overall, there are many ways to address the barriers to mental health services, but past studies suggest that policy changes will create the most impactful results.


Anderson, J. K., Howarth, E., Vainre, M., Jones, P. B., & Humphrey, A. (2017). A scoping literature review of service-level barriers for access and engagement with mental health services for children and young people. Children and Youth Services Review, 77, 164–176. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chil...

Drake, R. E., Bond, G. R., Thornicroft, G., Knapp, M., & Goldman, H. H. (2012). Mental health disability: An international perspective. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23(2), 110–120. https://doi.org/10.1177/104420...

Hodgkinson, S., Godoy, L., Beers, L. S., & Lewin, A. (2017). Improving mental health access for low-income children and families in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 139(1), e20151175. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2...

Loades, M., Chatburn, E., Higson-Sweeney , N., Reynolds, S., Shafran, R., Brigden, A., Linney, C., McManus, M., Borwick, C., & Crawley, E. (2020). Rapid Systematic Review: The Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in the Context of COVID-19. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 59(11), 1218–1239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac...

Polanczyk, G.V., Salum, G. A., Sugaya, L. S., Caye, A., & Rohde, L. A. , Annual Research Review: A meta-analysis of the worldwide prevalence of mental disorders in children and adolescents. . Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2015. 56(3): p. 345-365

So, M., McCord, R. F., & Kaminski, J. W. (2019). Policy levers to promote access to and utilization of children’s mental health services: A systematic review. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 46(3), 334–351. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488...

Thakur, K., Kumar, N., & Sharma, N. (2020). Effect of the pandemic and lockdown on mental health of children. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics, 87(7), 552–552. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12098...

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