By Craig Chamberlain
Many infants, toddlers and preschoolers with developmental delays -- in learning, language, social or motor skills -- are not getting the help they and their families need, says Susan Fowler, a UI professor of special education.
The developmental problems of too many children from minority groups, who make up one-third of the preschool population, are not being identified or not dealt with effectively, Fowler said. Barriers of language or culture, and often poverty, mean parents are intimidated by the system, or unaware of services. Professionals who provide the services are unsure how to cross the cultural divide. As a result, children from minority groups are seriously underrepresented in special education programs for those younger than 5, but overrepresented after that when they reach school, she said.
With a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the UI, as the lead institution in a collaborative effort, will spend the next five years working to change that. The grant will set up and fund the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Early Childhood Research Institute. Fowler will be the director and principal investigator of the institute.
Also included in the grant are the UI-based ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, led by Lilian Katz, a professor of early childhood education; the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, in Reston, Va.; and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
The institutions are well-matched for the effort, Fowler said. The federally funded ERIC system (Educational Resources Information Center) supports the world's largest database of education-related literature. UWM, like the UI, is a source of expertise on early childhood special education, and faculty members from the two schools recently collaborated on a book about effective practices in the field.
Concerns about language and culture are especially important in early childhood special education because services are provided mainly within the context of the family, Fowler said. Without understanding the cultural influence, "you may recommend approaches or strategies that are very inconsistent with what the family is willing to do."
Among the principal goals of the institute will be to collect, review, test and catalog materials and strategies developed for use with families and children in minority populations. The institute will develop a system for rating the materials, so professionals know what they're getting. Where gaps are found, the institute will work to create and test new materials through various research sites.
The ultimate goal is to make most of these collected and developed materials readily available to professionals who need them, including on the World Wide Web, Fowler said. The institute began operation Jan. 1. Its home page will be complete within the next two weeks and can be accessed at http://ericps.ed.uiuc.edu/clas/clashome.html.