Researchers receive federal grant to study educational outcomes of children with special needs

A team of New Jersey researchers received a major federal grant to study the educational outcomes of children with special health care needs. The three-year study titled, "Return to School: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Community Integration after Pediatric Rehabilitation," is funded by a $597,348 grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (90IFRE0030). John O'Neill, PhD, and Amanda L. Botticello, PhD, MPH, of Kessler Foundation are co-principal investigators for this collaborative project with Children's Specialized Hospital.

Attending school is vital to community integration for children with special health care needs. This population, however, often faces obstacles to education despite legislation designed to promote access and inclusion. Lengthy illnesses and hospitalizations are common among children with chronic health problems, interrupting their participation in school. The educational outcomes of these children are largely unknown, a knowledge gap that complicates the work of the clinicians, families, and educators who are invested in their educational success.

This NIDILRR-funded study is based on a successful pilot study that linked Children's Specialized Hospital medical records to New Jersey State Department of Education records of a large cohort of children with special health care needs. The researchers will use a combination of medical and educational records, focus groups, and interviews to understand the experiences of returning to school after pediatric rehabilitation. Their goal is to develop a prospective process to identify the educational needs of these children that can be implemented across a variety of healthcare settings.

This study will benefit children and adolescents with disabilities by improving the coordination between healthcare systems, schools, and families. We anticipate that the knowledge gained will document the effectiveness of interventions that support good educational outcomes, such as long-term care management, peer support groups, and medical education for the clinicians who care for these children. What we learn in New Jersey about the community integration of children with special health care needs may serve as a model for public policies for special education services in other states."

Dr. John O'Neill, Kessler Foundation

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