The roots of family-centered care and education go way back. As professionals we’ve always known that families are important to children, whether those children are at home or in early care and education programs. We have research to back us up, some of it from a pioneer, John Bowlby (1969, 1973), a researcher noted for his attachment theory and his study of the harm resulting in separating children in hospitals from their parents. We know now about attachment and hospitalization; we are still learning about attachment and education.

Head Start, mentioned earlier, was born in the Mississippi Freedom Schools and is still going strong today. During the War on Poverty of the mid-1960s it became a federally funded comprehensive preschool and social services program with not only a mandate for parent involvement and education but also built-in devices for parents to have some say in the education of their young children in the preschool years. Several generations now have been through Head Start. Today Head Start teachers are sometimes grown-up Head Start children, as are some of the directors.

Urie Bronfenbrenner, mentioned earlier, was co-founder of Head Start. His Ecology of Human Development had a big influence on creating family-centered programs. He emphasized that the abstract concept of “the child” doesn’t exist ( Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1994). His ideas not only caught hold in Head Start, but expanded the program downward to include infants and toddlers, the idea being not so much to educate the babies but to work with the families because they are the ones that have the greatest influence on their children’s lives.

Pioneer parent educator Ira J. Gordon (1968, 1976) created a program in Florida back in the 1960s involving parents of infants with the goal of improving child out- comes. He studied parent education and involvement and eventually came up with a hierarchy of types of involvement (Olmsted et al., 1980), moving from parents being recipients of information, to learning new skills, to teaching their own children, and becoming classroom volunteers. The two top kinds of involvement are becoming a paid paraprofessional and, finally, taking on the role of decision maker and policy advisor.

Today you can find elements of these various levels of involvement in many kinds of programs, including Head Start, other kinds of preschools, kindergartens, and grade schools. Some programs involve parents more than other programs.

The special education law PL 94–142, called the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, mandated parent involvement in planning for the education of the child. Each child identified with a disability or special need must have an Individual Educational Plan (IEP), or if an infant or toddler, an Individualized Fam- ily Service Plan (IFSP). A group of professionals along with the parents create these

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The Child in Context of Family and Community 11

plans. According to the law and the re- authorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990 and 1997, parents must be involved in all aspects of their children’s education. PL 108–446 aligned special education with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation in 2004 and continued the mandate for parent involvement and power so that families disagreeing with a diagnosis or placement can call a hearing.

The “parent as the child’s first teacher” is a motto now and a widespread notion throughout early care and education. Parent education materials, classes, and videos are available for new parents to see how important they are to their babies. Preschools involve parents in a variety of ways including volunteering in the class- room. One first-grade teacher has parents come in to the classroom twice a week first thing in the morning to read to their children. Most kindergarten and primary teachers encourage parents to help children with their homework. Also those same teachers usually encourage parents to help their children by finding a quiet place to do their homework and take an interest in school and what their children are learning.

That motto of “parents as the child’s first teacher” can also be interpreted in another way in family-centered programs, which emphasize a broad range of parent-support services. Of course parents are welcome to come into the classroom, but they are not mandated to do so. The focus of the support is to help parents with whatever they need rather than telling them how to be involved in their child’s education or that they have to take the role of teacher. Some families find that through the kind of support they gain from the program staff and other families in the program, they are better able to organize their lives so they can support their children emotionally and meet their basic physical needs for nutrition, rest, and exercise. Children whose physical and emotional needs are met have the focus and energy for learning. These are real basics.

Douglas Powell wrote about the family-centered program movement way back in 1986. He talked about how many programs at that time were making a shift toward family-orientation (1986, p. 50). Powell used Head Start as an example when he wrote about the shift from child-focused programs to family-centered ones. Head Start today, in its many forms, still makes the family the client. In 1998, Powell acknowledged that the movement toward family-centered programs wasn’t as widespread as it should be. He illustrated this using a metaphor of programs as a piece of fabric made of three col- ors of thread—one color each for children, staff, and parents. He described the most common pattern as a weaving of the child and staff together; the parents end up in a separate section. Many programs still show this same pattern. The family-centered program would make a different fabric, with the parent threads woven throughout the pattern so that all three colors of thread are integrated. In a family-centered program there is no separate section of the pattern just for parents (Powell, 1998, p. 60).

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