Cartus’ Biggest Challenges survey lists schooling issues as one of the leading challenges for employees relocating abroad. Of particular concern were schooling challenges in Greater China (cited by 48% of respondents), Africa (45%), and the Middle East (44%). Given that the survey sample includes employees both with and without children, it is almost certainly the case that for families with children, schooling is at the top of the list of concerns. Think about your own relocating employees; it’s quite likely that the biggest single obstacle to talent mobility involves moving with children.
In the industrialized world, somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of students have some form of special education need. This can include anything from autism to attention-deficit disorder to medical conditions that require the child to receive supplemental academic support. This figure also includes very gifted students, who are often placed in special programs designed to challenge and stimulate them. Parents of these children have spent a great deal of time ensuring that the right support is provided to their children in the home location, and they will be extremely reluctant to upend those arrangements for an international assignment or domestic U.S. move.
It is also important to note that employers most often are not aware of the child’s situation prior to the initiation of the move. Information about the child’s condition is almost always extremely sensitive and very private, and it’s very likely that many employees with special needs children turn down the opportunity for an assignment abroad on the assumption that their child’s educational requirements cannot be met in other countries.
The good news is that in the last 20 years, the understanding and awareness of learning disabilities and other special education needs have increased dramatically, especially in the U.S. The bad news is that sometimes individual families can be reluctant to accept that their own children may have special education needs, and certain cultures, especially in the developing world, still have a long way to go regarding acceptance and proactive steps to address such needs. For example, in Asia there is often a cultural resistance to, and lack of acceptance of, children with special needs. To some degree, this accounts for fewer regional and local resources.
Practical tips and solutions to this resistance include:
• Be patient with the employee, family and child; transitions are stressful, and it’s even more complicated with a special needs child;
• Don’t look for shortcuts—encourage full transparency;
• Home/host expertise is key to a successful school placement in which the child will thrive and do well; and,
• Be realistic about family situations that do not lend themselves to accepting an assignment.
This is a complex and ever-changing topic, and it requires subject-matter expertise; but with patience, tact, knowledge, and compassion, the result can be a wonderful relocation experience.