History of the Family Support Movement

Family Support Movement

The origin of the family support movement in the disability field is rooted in the United States larger societal context and events of the 1950s. As the war was ending, the country began to prosper. Women were working outside of the home, families were buying homes, medicine was improving and the economy started to boom. At the same time, the civil rights movement was starting where citizens were demanding equal rights and standards across the country. These political, economic and societal factors set the stage for what is recognized as the family support movement.

The larger social service family support movement began with the general social services movement in the 1960s, with self-help and grassroots efforts advocating for the development of community-based programs and supports to strengthen family functioning (Dunst, Johanson, Trivette, & Hamby 1991; Weissbourd, 1987; Weissbourd & Kagan, 1989; Zigler & Black, 1989). This movement focused on families in particular social or economic categories; such as poverty, joblessness, poor health, or other factors (Kagan & Weissbourd, 1994). The family support movement evolved to adjust to the changing composition and needs of families.

During this same time, the parent movement in the disability field was gaining strength and momentum. Parents organized to support each other and to speak out for their sons and daughters with disabilities (Braddock, 2002). Families strongly supported the idea that their child was not broken and did not need to be removed from their home to be fixed 23 (Bazyk, 1989; Cournoyer, 1991; Dunst et al., 1988; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990). These parent groups were the first to bring disability issues of segregation, lack of education and training, and lack of support services to legislators, educators and the public (Goode, 1999). The parents highlighted the need to create a system of support that would enable their sons and daughters to go to school and receive the services necessary to continue living as a family.

This momentum created the first recognized disability family support movement. Families began identifying and campaigning for the development of programs that would support their child within community schools and the disability service system resulting in considerable progress in public policy for individuals with disabilities (Silverstein, 2000). These included the passage of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid) which funded intermediate care facilities as opposed to funding only institutions; the ruling in the Wyatt v. Stickney case that found that individuals with disabilities had a constitutional right to treatment; passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which protected individuals with disabilities against discrimination; and the landmark passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (now known as IDEA). Also, during this time the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendments of 1970, P.L. 517 was passed, the first congressional effort to address the needs of a group of individuals with disabilities designated as developmentally disabled. This Act would later become the Developmental Disabilities Act (DD Act). These new policies laid the foundation allowing parents to care for their child at home and in their communities.

State governments establishing policies and programs to support and strengthen families of young children (Weiss, 1989) represent the next wave of the family support movement. States recognized that families needed assistance to support their child at home. In the early 1970’s Pennsylvania developed one of the earliest state-funded family support initiatives for children with intellectual disabilities. Over the next two decades, all other states and the District of Columbia fielded some type of family support for children, each offering different types of services and supports intended to do whatever it takes– to assure that children could grow up with their families (Daniels, Butz, Goodman, & Kregel , 2009). The following table summarizes the third wave of disability family support.

Federal legislation soon followed, representing a third wave of family support that refocused federal departments and initiatives on family-oriented and community based programs. Early intervention Special Education legislation (IDEA Part C) passed in 1986 that mandated states develop systems that utilize individual family service plans to integrate health, education and social service systems. Part C recognizes that the family is the most important constant in a child’s life and the family environment is the richest context for social, emotional, cognitive and physical developmental– (Hooper & Umansky, 2004, p. 92). IDEA reauthorization also indicated parents were to be viewed not only as recipients of services but as the accountability mechanism to monitor professionals as they implemented IDEA requirements (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2000; Turnbull, Turnbull, & Wheat, 1982). The same year the Developmental Disabilities Act mandated its funded entities to develop a 25 meaningful role for families in the provision of services and policies. This significant mandate is the impetus to the development of the Partners in Policymaking program and is described below in greater detail. Then, the Department of Health and Human ServicesDivision of Maternal and Child Health, soon following in 1989, adopted the philosophy that services for children with special health care needs should be family-centered, communitybased, coordinated, comprehensive, and culturally competent with passage of P.L. 101-239 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. (Brewer, McPherson, Magrab, & Hutchins, 1989; Hutchins & McPherson, 1991; Shelton, Jeppson, & Johnson, 1987). These federal policies represented the transformations that were occurring across the country related to family support and to the recognition and rights of families.

The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act

The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), originally titled the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendments of 1970, P.L. 517, was the first federal legislation specific to developing services for persons with developmental disabilities, with its original focus on the development of facilities and programs. However, by 1986, the DD Act had evolved along with our understanding of disability, to recognizing the significant role that families play in the everyday support for individuals with disabilities and in the development of policies that most impacts their lives and services. The following section will highlight how the concept of family support threads throughout this federal legislation and how the DD Act served as the impetus to the development of the Partners in Policymaking program. The DD Act is designed to assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to culturally competent services, supports, and other assistance and opportunities that promote independence, productivity, integration, and inclusion into the community. The Administration of Developmental Disabilities serves as the federal agency that oversees the DD Acts implementation. The goals of the DD Act are accomplished through funding provided to four distinct but integrated entities in almost every state and territory; Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Protection and Advocacy Services, University Centers on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and Projects of National Significance.

The DD Act identifies Councils on Developmental Disabilities in each state and charges them with developing innovative and cost effective strategies to promote systemic change. The role of Protection and Advocacy Systems are to protect the legal and human rights of individuals with developmental disabilities through legal, administrative and other appropriate remedies. University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) provide interdisciplinary training to students and professionals, engage in cuttingedge research, provide technical assistance, and direct services and supports to individuals with disabilities and their families. While Projects of National Significance support local and state projects which address emerging areas of concern that can be replicated across the nation. Each of these entities also identifies strategies for coordinating activities that would accomplish the overall goals of the DD Act, such as joint demonstration projects, shared information dissemination strategies or collaborative systems change initiatives.

With each reauthorization of the DD Act, the role of the family and individuals with developmental disabilities has grown in significance. Beginning in 1986 the reauthorization language was amended to recognize and mandate the role of parents and family members in the provision of services and policies for those with developmental disabilities. This amendment required that programs develop and implement meaningful participation and training for parents and family members. This is accomplished using a myriad of strategies; such as hiring family members and self-advocates in key roles, developing community advisory boards with family and self-advocate leaders from the state and infusing familyleaders into interdisciplinary training opportunities.

In 2002 the DD Act was again reauthorized, this time it wasn’t just the role of families but the concept of family support overall that was elevated within the Act as Title II: Family Support. Family support was now explicitly recognized as an area of need and focus for research, education and services however no funding was appropriated (Beach Center on Disability, 2007a; Daniels et al., 2009). In response to this, the Administration on Developmental Disabilities used funding from the Projects of National Significance program to develop family support initiatives for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families (Knoll et al., 1990). These initiatives were designed to emphasize the important role of family and community members in the lives of individuals with disabilities with the provision of necessary support services (US Senate Report 100-113, 1987).

Although funding continues for several projects across the country, professionals within the field recognize the need to develop an integrated, cohesive system of support for families that moves beyond what the past projects have focused on. Currently however the Administration on Developmental Disabilities is engaging stakeholders in conversations to 30 facilitate the development of a national agenda and policy recommendations to further elevate the importance of and funding for family support. This is especially important as families are demanding services in the community, as opposed to segregated services in the community and as fiscal constraints are changing the scope and nature of services provided.

Reynolds, Michelle C., PhD (2011). Understanding the Partners in Policymaking Program and the Impact of Participation on Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities in Missouri (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO.

For the full dissertation, please contact reynoldsmc@umkc.edu

Articles about Family Support
  • “Working Toward Sustainable Futures: Establishing a “Next Generation” of Family Support Services” acrobat word
    John Agosta, Kerri Melda and Valerie Bradley at the Human Services Research Institute – This information brief is a great summary of the current state of the family support movement and discussion of the future of family support.
  • “Uncharted Waters: Moving Beyond What We Know as Family Support” acrobat
    Sheli Reynolds, PhD – An article about new ideas and ways of thinking about the family support movement.
  • NCI Data Brief, 7.1 November 2010: “What does NCI tell us about adults with disabilities who live at home with their families?” acrobat
  • Tamar Heller, Alan Factor, Family support and intergenerational caregiving: Report from the State of the Science in Aging with Developmental Disabilities Conference, Disability and Health Journal, Volume 1, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 131-135, ISSN 1936-6574, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2008.04.004.  acrobat
  • Mary C. Rizzolo, Richard Hemp, David Braddock, and Abigail Schindler (2009) Family Support Services for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Recent National Trends. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: April 2009, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 152-155.