The Impact of Geographic Mobility on Canadian Military families and their Children’s Access Special Education Services
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To achieve academic success, children with learning-related disabilities often receive special education supports at school. Currently, Canada does not have a federal department or integrated national system of education. Instead, each province and territory has a separate department or ministry that is responsible for the organization and delivery of education, including special education, at the elementary level. At the macro (national) level, inclusive education is the policy across Canada. However, each province and territory has its own legislation, definitions, and policies mandating special education services. These variations result in little consistency at the micro (individual school) level. Differences between eligibility requirements, supports offered, and delivery methods may present challenges for highly mobile families who must navigate new special education systems on behalf of their children with medical or learning challenges. One of the defining features of the Canadian military lifestyle is geographic mobility. As a result, many families are tasked with navigating new school systems for their children, a task that may be more difficult when children require special education services. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact of geographic mobility on Canadian military families and their children’s access to special education services. The secondary objective was to gain insight into supports that helped facilitate access to services, as well as supports that participants believe would have helped facilitate access. A qualitative approach, interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), was employed due to of its focus on individuals’ experiences and their understandings of a particular phenomenon. IPA allowed participants to reflect on the significance of their experiences, while the researcher engaged with these reflections to make sense of the meanings associated with their experiences. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with civilian caregivers who have a child with special education needs. An interview guide and probes were used to elicit rich, detailed, first-person accounts of their experiences navigating new special education systems. The main themes that emerged from the participants’ combined experiences addressed the emotional components of experiencing a transition, factors that may facilitate access to special education services, and career implications associated with accessing and maintaining special education services. Findings from the study illustrate that Canadian families experience many, and often times severe, barriers to accessing special education services after a posting. Furthermore, the impacts reported throughout the study echo the existing American literature on geographic mobility and access to special education services. Building on the literature, this study also highlights the need for further research exploring factors that create unique barriers to access in a Canadian context, resulting from the current special education climate, military policies, and military family support services.