Chapter 7

Working with Nontraditional Families

Types of Nontraditional Families


  • custodial grandparents
  • secondary caregivers
  • noncustodial caregivers
  • noncustodial parents
  • foster parents
  • homeless families
  • families with abuse



Main Points:

  1. Assist grandparents by providing specific information and encouragement.
  2. Involve noncustodial parents as much as possible.
  3. Support foster parents in their role as surrogate parents.
  4. Keep reasonable expectations for homeless parents.
  5. Consider whether you should inform parents of your child abuse/ neglect report.


Approaches and Strategies

  • Provide information on child development.
  • Provide families with educational resources.
  • Make special efforts to involve all family members.
  • Be supportive and empathetic with families.


Best Practices for Teachers

  • When dealing with possible cases of abuse, remind the parent that you are simply reporting, not investigating.
  • Encourage homeless families or parents to actively participate in school because they may feel powerless, and you need to remind them that they have something to offer.
  • Being sympathetic and nonjudgemental may reap immediate results or it may inspire parents to be more involved at a later date, when their life circumstances stabilize.
  • It may be necessary to educate foster parents about the special education system, about their roles as active participants, and the benefits of parent-teacher collaboration.
  • Many noncustodial parents remain important individuals in their children's lives. It is important to include them in their children's academic life, i.e. send messages, newsletters, and report cards to both parents.
  • Providing custodial grandparents support and expressing appreciation of their efforts can go a long way toward establishing a strong working relationship.
  • Reaching out to secondary caregivers is a way to help the child and may relieve a burden from stressed parents particularly ones who do not participate as much as desired.
  • Role play with grandparents to teach them how to deal with difficult topics.
  • Encourage grandparents to visit during the school day if they are not employed.
Gorman, J.C. (2004). Working with challenging parents of students with special needs.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.