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immigrant parents, relies on school personnel to make the best decisions for Michel.Helping the Family System Incorporate a New Member: Marie Clothilde’s unfamiliarity with the local education system provided me with the opening I needed to engage André, who, as a result of having gone to high school in the area, was more familiar with the system and at ease with school personnel. Appealing to André’s authority on the local education system not only increased his involvement with Michel and his special learning challenges but also brought him back into an alliance with Marie Clothilde on behalf of their child, as together, with my coaching and support, they worked with the special educationstaff at Michel’s school to obtain a full educational evaluation and design an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to meet his learning needs. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents are entitled to be considered full partners with special education personnel in contributing to planning the IEP.
Strategies to Strengthen the Parental Subsystem: My experience in working with immigrant parents, many of whom come from cultures that place educators on a pedestal, is that they are often hesitant to question the decisions of school staff or to advocate for their child if they feel his or her learning needs arenot being met. This seems to happen more often when the child’s learning is impacted by serious emotional and behavior disorders. As is true in most states across the country, we are fortunate to have a very effective educational advocacy group in Massachusetts, the Professional/Parent Advocacy League (P/PAL), for families whose children have mental health challenges. P/PAL can arrange for a legal advocate who is thoroughly familiar with education law to accompany parents to an IEP planning meeting if they are at all concerned that their child will not receive appropriate or adequate educational services from the school. If I am working with a family with a child with a serious emotional and/or behavior disorder, I routinely put them in touch with a P/PAL representative, who is usually an experienced parent of a child with similar challenges who offers support and information about local resources. P/PAL also sponsors psychoeducation groups that meet weekly in specific locations throughout the state for parents whose children are struggling with mental health concerns. In addition, the organization holds picnics and other fun events for families who may feel more comfortable socializing with other families with similar childrearing challenges. One of the most significant changes in family systems practice in recent years is the recognition that the families we work with are embedded in networks of community supports and services that can be tapped to strengthen the family system in myriad ways. Family systems work used tofocus almost completely on the nuclear family system, the constellation of dad, mom, and kids. As this constellation changed markedly over the past several decades to encompass a variety of family forms,