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Liberty and choices for all.

In the February 1993 issue of Exceptional Parent, we published Profound Truths by Kathleen M. Fagley in which she described her family's decision in 1984 to place their three-year-old son, Evan, in a residential program. We received an almost instant response from you, our readers. Some parents were thankful that the use of residential placement was discussed. Others expressed their disappointment and anger at families like the Fagleys and have continued to criticize Exceptional Parent for publishing articles about residential placement. We are concerned because the letters we have published suggest that loving, caring parents are fighting with one another, somehow becoming polarized on this issue.

Attitudes about residential placement have a long history. Some critics seem to continue to equate placement in a contemporary residential program with the inhumane and tragic institutionalization of children and adults with disabilities that was so common 20 to 30 years ago. Although we must not forget our vivid, personal memories and the horrible photographs of the way our society treated children and adults with disabilities in the past, there have been vast changes, unimaginable three decades ago.

When we first began Exceptional Parent in 1971, there were so few alternatives for the care and education of children with disabilities that institutionalization was often the only option families could afford; the family's only decision was whether to place the child today or sometime in the future. In the minds and hearts of parents, institutionalization was viewed as a sentence to life in prison, or even a death sentence.

While in the United States today there still exist some troubling institutional settings that isolate residents separated from communities and/or fail to provide humane care, parents and people with disabilities have choices -- choices that are no longer the "lesser of two evils." Many residential programs offer a variety of creative programs that include many opportunities for community participation. And yet, although there are decent choices available today, why do so many caring and dedicated parents and professionals continue to react angrily to articles and advertisements about residential programs for children and adults with disabilities?

First, although much has changed, parenting has always been, and will continue to be, a challenging, energy-consuming, stressful and usually thankless task. Parenting a child with a disability and/or special health care needs will continue to be even more challenging, energy-consuming, stressful and thankless. Thus, it becomes especially important for each of us to remember that under stress, good people can think and say things which they wish they had never said. For example, under the stresses and anguish of everyday life, all people, including parents, may occasionally feel like getting rid of individuals they love. Unfortunately, some parents keep these troubling feelings and thoughts to themselves because they are angry and upset with themselves for having such feelings and fear sharing them. Under the stress of the moment, when these feelings are put into harsh words or deeds, parents may abuse the child or spouse they love -- thus, when we are upset we are likely to say to do things that we regret. As stresses continue and personal energy becomes depleted, individuals and families can become exhausted as well as unable to cope in ways that are supportive of a caring, loving household.

Second, all parents share parenting's greatest challenge -- to assure that each child receives the best possible education and health care. Despite the vast changes that have taken place, parents of children with (and without) disabilities are forced to settle for less than the best in both education and health care. Under such realities, many parents decide to enroll their children in private or religious day schools or boarding schools -- sometimes choosing to greatly increase the family's financial stresses. Others, without adequate resources, are forced to make compromises or to fight for public funding from limited public resources. Then, whenever a placement decision is made, public programs for other children may suffer.

We respect all parents and we believe that parents always know best about the needs of their own children. We also believe that each family tries its best to make the most constructive decisions for each of its members.

We believe that all parents are entitled to opportunities to make the best possible choices for all their children. At the same time, we continue to be enthusiastic supporters of the inclusion of children with disabilities in public education classrooms with their neighborhood peers -- as long as such programs continue to attend to the special needs of children with disabilities and the needs of the other children, teachers and parents. We will continue to advocate for the right of every parent to choose the best for every child. And we shall not abandon our hope that someday, each parent shall have many wonderful choices for each child as well as for themselves.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:in residential treatment facilities for handicapped children
Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Planning for the future: providing a meaningful life for a child with a disability after your death.
Next Article:Papa's sweetheart.

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