Unintended consequences are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action.
A couple of years ago, my friend Vickie wrote about a change in federal rules imposing limits on sub-minimum wage earners and the entities that employed them.
The change impacted Vickie’s son directly because he earned a sub-minimum wage at his job with an agency work-program.
If the program could no longer pay sub-minimum wage, it might not be able to continue to employ the agency’s clients, most of whom would not be able to be hired elsewhere.
It was an example of unintended consequences. The goals of the new rule were outstanding: That people had the opportunity to earn minimum wage; that workers would not be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.
But the new rule did not take into account those workers for whom the issue was not necessarily a need to be able to pay for living on their own, but instead a need to work to be productive in society – “to have a job like anyone else.”
Unintended consequences happen a lot when dealing with entities and systems that serve and work with a lot of people.
It is difficult to design a one-size-fits-all approach when every person is very different.
I have worked with courts looking to improve how they served families and children in the dependency system, and have seen many times when a program was launched with amazing goals, was thoughtfully implemented, and still resulted in negative impacts on the very people it was trying to help.
What happened next was sometimes the most important thing:
They did not throw in the towel on the program, but instead tweaked, modified, and sometimes redesigned it to eliminate the unintended consequence.
It was hard work which took a lot of energy, creativity, and dedication.
Unintended consequences don’t just happen in huge executive and judicial branch entities. Sometimes they happen in our families, too.
We reached a moment like that in our journey with the Navigator.
When we enrolled the Navigator in online school, one of the deciding factors was that he would be able to get social interaction with his peers by taking electives at his local zoned school.
It was intended to be the best of all worlds – academics at home, with social opportunities at school.
It was in effect a self-selected accommodation, which required very little IEP-based support from the school district, and which worked well for the Navigator.
But we did not take into account the effect of possible school refusal when we were envisioning this path for him.
School refusal meant the unintended consequence of zero social interaction for weeks at a time, during a period in his life when interacting with his peers was important to his growth and development.
Once the unintended consequence was discovered, we needed to see what we could tweak, modify, or redesign to eliminate it.
This meant working with the school district, and holding multiple IEP meetings because this scenario was new for them, too.
The new goal: Adding meaningful social interaction into the Navigator’s schooling while continuing with the online curriculum.
Stay tuned as we answer a very important question in this process: Where does online school fall along the continuum of “least restrictive” and “most restrictive” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).