COLLABORATION STORIES : PRECONDITIONS FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF SCHOOL EXPERIENCES FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
In Canada, the educational system is under provincial jurisdiction. Thus, each province establishes its own educational policy, based on the dominant consideration that mainstreaming is the most appropriate way to educate all students, including children who confront a range of disabling conditions. This situation of high decentralization creates a wide variety of inclusive education settings across the country (Timmons, 2006). In Quebec, the educational policy favours the attendance by children and youths with special needs at their regular neighbourhood schools in an inclusive setting where they learn with typically developing peers. Nevertheless, when it is determined that students are unable to receive educational services that meet their abilities and needs, some options, including education in a special school, may be preferred (Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, 2007). In regular settings, the challenge of providing for the complex needs of children who are in some way at risk, in difficulty or living with disabilities is considerable. To address this concern, the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Ministry of Education decided, in 2003, to pool their efforts, resources and expertise. In this context, the Agreement for complementarity of services between the health and social services network and the education network was concluded, firmly committing to a path of dialogue and intersectoral action (Ministère de l’Éducation, 2003). The overall objectives of this study (2007-2010) were to evaluate the implementation of the Agreement, its effects on practice renewal and organization of services, and its impacts on pupils with disabilities or other special needs and their families. The purpose of this presentation is to explore some positive applications of this agreement taking place in the province of Quebec.
Using a mixed method study design, the research examined the Agreement’s impact on consultation mechanisms between the different partners. The research methodology involved formal interviews using pre-set guide questions, focus groups and TRIAGE (Technique for Research of Information by Animation of a Group of Experts). Among participants, 38 members of the Agreement’s national or regional committees were interviewed by telephone. As well, 39 members of these committees participated to a TRIAGE (N=3). In addition, 143 stakeholders (health professionals, school principals, teachers, etc.) from both networks were interviewed by telephone. Finally, 35 stakeholders from four administrative regions of Quebec shared their experiences and expertise through focus groups (N=3).
Despite difficulties encountered, participants from different regions reported various "success stories" (collaborative practice, innovative projects for young people). These results support the need for preconditions to collaboration, as time dedicated to formal and informal meetings, and confidentiality or information sharing protocols. In a number of administrative regions, the most important organizational transformation identified by participants was the formation of local and regional mechanisms of cooperation. These mechanisms often took the form of committees or workgroups involving both networks on a regular basis, allowing stakeholders to share concerns and develop solutions to reach common goals for pupils with special needs and their families.