Impact Impact: Feature Issue on Early Childhood Education and Children with Disabilities

Supporting Inclusive Early Childhood Literacy in Colorado:
El Grupo de Familias


Susan M. Moore is Clinical Professor in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Science, University of Colorado, Boulder

El Grupo de Familias, an inclusive parent education and support program for families that speak Spanish, began in 1995 because of a paucity of services and information for bilingual or Spanish-speaking families with young children with and without identified challenges. Families were struggling with decisions regarding what languages their children "should" learn, especially if they had been identified with a disability. Many had recently arrived from Mexico and were monolingual Spanish-speaking, with great variation in parental level of education and literacy skill in their native language. El Grupo de Familias was developed based on research about how children acquire language(s) and become literate in more than one language regardless of identified disability. Over the past 14 years it has become a valued community resource, providing families with information about how children develop oral language(s), pre-literacy skills, and ways in which they benefit from parental and provider use of culturally-relevant interactive strategies during daily routines and activities, storytelling, and shared storybook reading.

The program is housed at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Science, and it works in collaboration with Intercambio de Comunidades, a nonprofit that broadens opportunities for immigrants. With funding from the City of Boulder Human Resources Fund, it brings together families in facilitated groups that assist participants to:

  • Obtain research-based information about preservation of home language and culture.
  • Have fun with their children as they increase early literacy in their native and second language.
  • Gain confidence and comfort to interact with professionals and educators, advocating as the "voice" for their children with and without disabilities.
  • Learn how to navigate the educational system and access community supports.
  • Build parent-to-parent relationships of cultural support.

The program is based on the premise that to be accepted by diverse families, intervention practices must be based upon cultural understanding and be implemented, when possible, in the preferred language of the family. Communicating in a preferred language establishes a comfort level for sharing stories and concerns, provides a model that languages are valued, and encourages intervention through culturally-relevant activities that celebrate the values and beliefs of family members, without stereotyping or making assumptions that deny families' ability to change or acculturate. The program makes use of acultural mediatorto enhance relationship-building with families from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. The cultural mediator is bilingual-bicultural and he/she understands the life ways, beliefs, and cultural background of participating families. "Knowing" the cultural mediator creates feelings of safety, trust, what to expect, and mutual understanding, and transfers this trust to other members of the team. This leads to individual consideration of family members, moving beyond assumptions based upon cultural grouping or identified disability.

Since it began, over 300 families have participated in El Grupo de Familias. In recent follow-up interviews with 25 of the program's participants (15 families with children identified with disability and 10 without), all reported an increased knowledge about their child's development, and found the information about bilingual language development, navigating the school system, and other community resources to be "very useful" or "useful." Families report continued involvement in their child's education, and a continued focus on communication with family members in Spanish. They also report that they know how to seek new supports in their current school/community and access all opportunities available to enhance their child's future.

While El Grupo de Familias was originally designed to focus on families who speak Spanish, the basic precepts of prevention and education can be used with any culturally or linguistically diverse families if implemented in consideration of cultural context. Its activities and approach are being shared with others around the country through a DVD, "A Story About El Grupo de Familias," which contains a series of short modules that focus on specific steps in the process of building trust, teaching literacy skills, and empowering parents to support their children's learning.