Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Interdisciplinary Education

Major Professor

Harold Keller, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Linda Raffaele Mendez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen Armstrong, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Teresa Nesman, Ph.D.


Families, Ecological, System of care, Early childhood, Qualitative


In recent years, there has been increased interest in the science of child development, particularly relative to early childhood (i.e., birth to 5 years) and children with challenging behavior. A broad interest in brain-behavior relationships and prevention services for young children has led to a renewed interest in the developmental significance of early life experiences (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Armed with an increasingly large body of neuroscience research, researchers have begun to examine the efficacy of prevention services and supports for young children and families, particularly those with challenging behavior (i.e., behaviors that interfere with optimal learning or engagement in prosocial interactions with peers and adults; Powell, Fixsen, and Dunlap, 2003). In light of such a research agenda, the voices of parents are often left unheard, despite widespread acknowledgment that parents are the childs first and most important teacher (Ferrell, 1985).

A sizable body of interdisciplinary research has evolved in support of a system of care designed to both improve childrens growth and development and to prevent occurrences of challenging behavior in young children. While qualitative studies in early intervention and early childhood special education are presently lacking (Sandall, Smith, McLean, and Ramsey, 2002), local efforts have begun to investigate the impact of services for young children with special needs in Hillsborough County, Florida (Raffaele Mendez and Hess, 2003). However, detailed reports of parent experiences were not possible, nor did the study focus on challenging behavior. Analyzed within an ecological framework relative to emergent themes and reported patterns of risk and protective factors, participating parents were afforded an opportunity to share their stories and provide illustrations of experiences raising young children with challenging behavior. Results indicated that parents not only shared many similar experiences (e.g., difficulties obtaining accurate information, obtaining services and supports, financial stress, stress within the family, and community isolation), but also reported comparable ecological risk and protective factors impacting their child’s behavior. Implications for research and practice are discussed.