THE BLOG
07/30/2013 11:14 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2013

Children and Their Learning and Behavioral Needs: Not a Luxury, a Necessity

School ends in early summer, giving children and families a chance to recover from the very busy routine of classes and extra-curricular activities that seems to take over the rest of the year. If you are a parent, you probably have shepherded your children through the seasons and spent endless hours making decisions about your children's needs academically and emotionally. We monitor, examine and analyze the results of quizzes, tests, and project presentations; we observe mood swings and changes in behavior and all of this data turns into emails and calls to teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators because we are fearful that our children will fail. We have an unending drive to prevent poor performance because we don't want them to be unhappy and disappointed in themselves.

We want them to love learning and be motivated to succeed on their own. We often have lofty goals early on in our children's education so that they will have lifelong security and success. In fact, this is our raison d'etre as parents. For a long time, I have been aware of the hours and angst that parents experience in their efforts to help their children succeed. But inequities exist for poor children, whose parents may not have the means, time, education or confidence to navigate the necessary bureaucracy to advocate for them. I am at first saddened, but then I am eager to change the story's ending.

I recently had a philosophical moment where I opined the lack of resources and the lack of equity for all children around my corner and thousands of miles away. Poverty is not just about food and shelter; the power of a child comes from their security which comes from success in school. Many poor children here in the US and around the world are starving for parental advocacy. Who can spend time helping their kids achieve in school, if they are exhausted from making ends meet or feel intimidated by the process? For me it is as simple as saying that struggling families need help advocating for their kids. Without advocates, kids are not able to perform optimally in school.

Quality of education is the result of many factors and one of the most important factors is parental involvement and advocacy. Many families might not know why their kids are not doing well in school, and they are unsure of who to speak to about poor grades and emotional/behavioral issues. Attending meetings with teachers and administrators might mean taking unpaid time off from work.

I calculated the hours it took me recently to advocate for one of my sons. I emailed his school guidance counselor and we all used email to arrange a meeting for the team of four teachers and two parents. That happened quickly over a few days, but it involved a lot of back and forth with emails. Then the meeting was after hours and I had to take off a couple of hours of work. Then we needed to implement the recommendations which involved hours of scheduling more experts and more time out of work. The expense must be part of the equation. It will likely end up costing about $5000 for the initial evaluations and that is without follow-up with monitoring and tutoring. The price tag on this could go to $10,000 by end of next year. I will have a happier child who understands himself better and is achieving more comfortably in school. I will have dipped into savings to make this all happen, and I feel lucky to have those savings.

It is unjust that families all over the world will not be able to afford this process. The deeper layers of what goes into a successful education -- parental involvement, particularly to address behavioral needs -- are not on most people's minds... not on funders' minds... not found in grants and not part of goals for the future of our 2.2 billion children in the world.

I am afraid that once again, our strategic planning for successful children in the future of the planet earth is not anticipatory of special needs, which is not a minor concern. All kids have moments where advocacy and protection is needed. And likely most kids don't get those needs met. Most importantly, I want it to be available to millions of at-risk, vulnerable, orphans in the US and abroad.

More on this wish and what I propose to do about it....