The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that children with disabilities be provided with individualized supports to maximize their overall development and learning. Caregivers of young children (ages birth-five years) play an integral role in determining what supports are most beneficial for the child and their family. Research related to family empowerment and capacity-building suggest that families facing multiple risk factors (e.g., presence of a disability, poverty, single parents, and low levels of maternal education) may experience feelings of powerlessness when asked by professionals to make decisions on behalf of themselves and their families. In order to mitigate such feelings, early childhood professionals tasked with supporting families experiencing multiple risk factors must employ effective strategies for empowering families to serve as equal partners within a collaborative relationship. The purpose of this project is to identify effective ways to engage families who are experiencing multiple risk factors including caring for young children with disabilities to work collaboratively with Head Start professionals when planning and implementing family-centered interventions. This project will specifically examine the collaborative relationship between families and Head Start Family Service Workers and the potential utility for a particular strategy "photo elicitation" to support an even greater collaboration by empowering families to share their personal stories. This study will utilize an exploratory mixed methods approach. Participants will be recruited through the statewide Head Start system in a large Midwestern state. Families and Head Start Family Service Workers will be invited to complete a survey focusing on their attitudes, knowledge, practices, and environmental features that may impact their ability to effectively collaborate with one another. Families will be invited to complete the photo elicitation aspect of the project which includes follow-up interviews addressing how sharing their family stories could lead to greater collaboration with Head Start professionals. Head Start Family Service Workers will be invited to participate in focus groups to elicit their views on training needs and specifically discuss how they might incorporate photo elicitation strategies in their efforts to effectively support families of children with and without disabilities. The photo elicitation component of this study will provide families caring for young children with disabilities the opportunity to "tell their story." Families will be asked to photograph any activity or experience that highlights what it is like to care for their young child with a disability. General and limited instructions will be provided so as to not guide or direct families in a particular direction. Photo elicitation has been found to be an effective technique when researchers value allowing participants to take the lead and "teach" the interviewer (Shaw, 2013). Furthermore, photo elicitation sharpens the memories of participants, provides insights into family dynamics that would not otherwise be brought up without a visual reminder, "breaks the frame" of the interviewer's perception of the family dynamic, and allows the participant to share and interpret their personal story, all while fostering an atmosphere of engaging dialogue between the interviewer and the participant. Photo elicitation also supports the shift from a deficit-based perception to a strengths-based one (Miller, 2014).
Administration for Children and Families/OPRE Projects