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Working With Families in the 21st Century.

Open any early childhood, elementary education, special education, or middle school journal published in the last year and you will find a plethora of articles related to working with families. To review even half of these publications, this column would need to occupy an entire volume of Childhood Education. Three key issues related to working with families include working with teenage parents, collaborating with families who have children identified with special needs, and finding more appropriate ways to incorporate fathers into their children's education. Articles related to each of these will be reviewed.

FACTORS RELATED TO SUCCESSFUL OUTCOMES AMONG PRESCHOOL CHILDREN BORN TO LOW-INCOME ADOLESCENT MOTHERS. Luster, T., Bates, L., Fitzgerald, H., Vandenbelt, M., & Key, J. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2000, 62(1), 133-146. This article sought to discover what factors contribute to the success of children born to low-income, adolescent mothers. The background characteristics of 44 such children were charted over 54 months. Information on caregiving and the home environment was gathered at 12, 24, 36, and 54 months. At 54 months, the children were tested using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R). As a result of these observations, the authors reported five salient differences between the children who were considered most successful and those who were least successful: "mothers of the most successful children achieved more years of education, were more likely to be employed, had fewer children on average, tended to live in more desirable neighborhoods, and were more likely to be living with a male partner" (p. 133).

The article was well-written, involved longitudinal data, and provided both quantitative and qualitative information. Still, I would have liked to have seen other measures of success besides the PPVT-R. While the results of this study were fascinating, many of the findings would be difficult to translate into practical educational applications.

TEENAGE PREGNANCY AND FEMALE EDUCATIONAL UNDERACHIEVEMENT: A Prospective Study of a New Zealand Birth Cohort. Fergusson, D., & Woodward, L. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2000, 62(1), 147-161. Fergusson and Woodward examined the relationship between pregnancy and education underachievement. Among the 521 young women they studied, the authors found that those who became pregnant by 18 were more likely to do poorly on national examinations and fail to finish high school. They were less likely to participate in tertiary forms of education than teenagers who had not gotten pregnant by 18.

The researchers pose an interesting question: Do teenage mothers, on average, get pregnant before leaving school, or do they leave school before they get pregnant? In this New Zealand sample, the authors found "that rates of teenage pregnancy might be elevated among young women who leave school early, rather than rates of early school leaving being elevated among young women who become pregnant during their teenage years" (p. 147).

Fergusson and Woodward did a commendable job of looking at the social context and the limitations of their study. They suggested that pregnancy may not have been a major cause of educational underachievement for these women. What does this mean for government programs such as Even Start in the United States? While these findings cannot be generalized, the authors do indicate that "one effective means of providing ... support is clearly through the implementation of programs for teenage mothers that provide them with the educational and other skills they will need as parents and breadwinners" (p. 159).

Researchers can use this article to design further studies in different regions to determine specific contextual variables related to teenage mothers and their educational achievement. If attention is given to historical, cultural, and economic influences affecting adolescent mothers, then more appropriate educational experiences can be planned.

SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS AND PARENT STRESS IN FAMILIES OF CHILDREN WITH AND WITHOUT LEARNING DISABILITIES. Lardieri, L., Blacher, J., & Swanson, H. Learning Disability Quarterly, 2000, 23(2), 105-116. This study investigated the relationships in families with and without a child who has a learning disability (LD). Specifically, the researchers measured sibling relationships and parent stress.

Families who participated in this study were divided into four groups. These included families whose children had neither a learning disability nor any behavior problems, families with an LD-only child, families with a behavior problem child, and those with a child who had both a learning disability and a behavior problem.

The most interesting finding was that parents of children with behavior problems, whether or not the child had a learning disability, reported higher levels of stress. Ultimately, the impact on the family of a child with a learning disability is largely determined by whether or not the child also has a behavior problem.

FAMILY-CENTERED EARLY INTERVENTION: Clarifying Our Values for the New Millennium. Bruder, M. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 2000, 20(2), 105115. Bruder uses three case studies to describe the state of family-centered early intervention. Each of these studies show difficulties associated with implementing a family-centered approach. Individual Family Service Plans (IFSPs) still emphasize child outcomes to the exclusion of broader family goals; service providers struggle with how to deliver services that include family input; and researchers and practitioners ponder "whether parent education and intervention on parent-infant interaction is encompassed within a family-centered framework, whether early intervention should be child-centered or family-centered, and whether the emphasis in early intervention should be relationship focused" (pp. 107-108). The author goes on to trace the history of early intervention with regard to family involvement, describe its current status, and make recommendations for future intervention efforts. Many of her recommendations are related to research issues, personnel preparation, program administration, and service delivery. The author endorses contextually based early intervention, which is "respectful, evidence-based, and appropriate for each family's unique situation" (p. 112).

FATHERS' INVOLVEMENT IN PROGRAMS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. Turbiville, V., Umbarger, G., & Guthrie, A. Young Children, 2000, 55(4), 74-79. The authors state that limited research has been conducted on the role and involvement of fathers in their children's educational or even therapeutic settings. Often, family-centered practices are actually more mother oriented than "parent" oriented. How, then, can we increase fathers' involvement in their children's schooling?

Barriers to fathers' participation in school programs include their work schedules and their interactional styles. Furthermore, many programs planned by teachers and child care administrators are of little interest to fathers. The authors point out, however, that an overwhelming proportion of fathers like to take a role and appreciate being invited to participate. Fathers tend to prefer programs that also directly involve their wives or their children. Therefore, program administrators and teachers can better accommodate fathers' needs by planning programs of interest to both mothers and fathers.

PARENTAL ROLE IDENTITY AND FATHERS' INVOLVEMENT IN COPARENTAL INTERACTION AFTER DIVORCE: Fathers' Perspectives. Madden-Derdich, D., & Leonard, S. Family Relations, 2000, 49(3), 311-318. The first year immediately after a divorce is a crucial time in a noncustodial father's involvement in parental interactions. This is often an ambiguous time, because

society offers few normative guidelines to assist families as tasks and responsibilities are rearranged and parental and spousal roles are redefined. The result is often a lack of clarity regarding who is and who is not a member of the family system and a lack of explicit guidelines regarding parental and coparental roles. (p. 312)

The authors subscribe to the family systems belief that the first year after a divorce determines if the father is likely to remain involved. The odds improve when opportunities for such involvement are encouraged, such as through school activities.

The fathers surveyed in this study stated that both individual and interpersonal factors were important in their parental role identity and in their participation in their children's lives after a divorce. Also, a father's satisfaction with his legal custody arrangement is important. Educators may need to recognize the anger, frustration, and redirection both parents are going through. With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, educators need more information on how to deal with this timely issue.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR RESPONSIBLE FATHERING? Walker, A., & McGraw, L. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2000, 62(2), 563-569. This article highlights the "sociohistorical context of fatherhood, childhood, and motherhood" (p. 563). The authors suggest that men need to assume greater responsibility for being good parents. Historically, women have been blamed for poor parenting, yet they have not usually had the same economic opportunities as men. While fathers' involvement in their children's lives is still "well below that of the cultural standards" (p. 567), the authors suggest that future research on responsible fathering should reflect the real world, rather than the ideal one.

Readers of this article will quickly detect that responsible fathering is a highly sensitive topic, currently being hotly debated in the human ecology literature. Educators are encouraged to not only read more critically the literature related to fathering, but also consider carefully all articles related to parenting and family relations.
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Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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