Are you having trouble relating to the other moms and dads at the bus stop? Do you search aimlessly online for ways to motivate your teen to get out of bed in the morning? Are you thinking to yourself that you are the only parent dealing with the depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. that your child is struggling with? Do you feel like none of your friends get this many calls from school about their child? If any of these scenarios resonate with you we can assure you that you are far from alone.
Not only are you not alone, but we are one phone call away from being on your side, and in your corner as you navigate some of your hardest parenting journeys. By calling 570-664-8615 or visiting us here you will be connected to a Family Support Partner (FSP) who will help you help your child thrive. There are many ways an FSP can help so we sat down with two of our incredible FSPs, Tracy and Melissa to have a discussion about the most common challenges they help parents with. Below are the top 4 ways they shared with us on how they help parents.
1. We let you in on the ins and outs
"I hear from parents all the time who are told that their child doesn't qualify for this support or that and I'm the one who explains that that's because they need to have a medical assistance card and there's a way they can get it based on their child's diagnosis not their family's income - it's called PH95. Providers don't always take the time to explain that though. Some parents have heard about it but don't know how to apply. Some parents have started the application process but need some guidance. Everyone is on their own journey." said Tracy.
"Documentation is everything - if you didn't document it, it didn't happen. I help a lot of the parents that I work with revamp their documentation process. I explain to them that verbally asking for something from a provider isn't always not enough. You need follow up with an email so there is documentation of that request with a time stamp. I just worked with a mom who is a nurse. Every nurse knows that documentation is everything but she was so utterly overwhelmed and exhausted by the things happening at home that she didn't think she would need to carry that over to her personal life when she advocates for her child." said Tracy.
"A lot of the parents that I work with have been mistreated, misguided, and disregarded by different providers. The complaint process is not always super transparent so I help them gather together everything and properly file that complaint," said Melissa.
"A lot of my calls are about PA's Mental Health Consent Law. Act 65 of 2020 has been misinterpreted across the state and the outcome has been an absolute nightmare for parents. If you are having trouble getting your child that is over 14 mental health services please give us a call. We can help you navigate this incredibly stressful situation," said Tracy.
2. In school supports are vital
"Kids spend so much of their waking time at school. It is where they learn, where they start to figure themselves out, and where they get to interact with their peers. It is so important that your child feels supported at school." said Melissa.
"A really common thing that we help parents with is making sure that their child with a mental health challenge is appropriately supported at school. If the child has an IEP or 504 plan we can help the parent go over it. We will look for areas that may need accommodations, make sure they are actually giving the child what they need, and generally make sure the IEP is written with the child in mind. We see a lot of schools copy and paste IEPs from one student to the other and sometimes we even notice the wrong child's name is listed - that is not right. These are individual plans and we can help you make sure of that. We also have helped parents brainstorm different ideas about what is needed to help a child make progress." explained Tracy.
"I have worked with many parents on the evaluation process and have explained how, when, and why we would want to get a child evaluated. Parents may be unfamiliar with this process so it can be helpful to have someone explain what to expect and what to do to ensure that your child is getting evaluated properly." explained Melissa.
"My own child has benefited from the Student Assistance Program (SAP) at their school so I always make a note to educate parents on this resource. Every school should have a SAP program (some are named different things) and while some are better than others it could be a big help to families. A lot of parents don't know that it isn't just teachers and other students who can make a referral to SAP, they can refer their child if they feel like their child would benefit from that support.
3. We meet you where you're at - you run the show.
"Our support is 100% based on what parent's need to help their child," explained Tracy one of our Family Support Partners. "I make it a point to mention that I can work around their schedule. If a call must be bumped, I understand that. I am a parent; I know things come up last minute. Giving them that wiggle room takes some pressure off them. We are not another obligation for you – we know parents don’t need another obligation." said Melissa.
Sometimes it's about taking just one thing off of a parent's mile long to-do list. "I talked to a single parent just last night. Her child is in crisis and she has a full-time job and 2 other kids to take care of. I asked her; 'Can I do some of the initial research for you? I can call places and get preliminary information. I can call the CAASP Coordinator and speak to some treatment facilities.' I am not doing it for her just taking one thing off her list. Maybe after that's off her list she will feel less overwhelmed and catch her footing." said Melissa.
"Parents are smart and resourceful – it comes with the parenting territory. A lot of parents I work with already know all these resources are available, they may be having trouble thinking clearly. When you're under a lot of stress it's hard to think creatively or take in new complicated information. I offer a non-judgmental sounding board to reflect back their needs, concerns, etc. Often parents figure out what they need to do by just talking things through with me. They just need that safe place to think and speak freely without the fear of judgement." said Tracy.
"If I am working with a parent and I realize the problem that they are running up against is a systematic problem that's happening to other families in their area or across the state, I ask if they are OK if I address their issue at a higher level. This can be done without sharing any personally identifiable information. Tackling things from both a personal and systemic level allows us to fix issues at their core. I let them know that I can voice that concern on their behalf. The strength it took them to share their story with me could help families in the future who may not have to struggle with the same issues." said Tracy.
4. You need support too
Both Tracy and Melissa agreed that judgement-free support and connection is what a lot of parents didn't even know they needed so badly when they reached out to us. "They may be calling for help with their child's behavior but when they start talking to a parent who understands that overwhelmed feeling they have - we can hear their relief in their voice. Being heard is a great feeling and I love that we can provide that kind of support to the parents we work with," said Melissa.
"We really connect through those same experiences that we have gone through. Waiting in the emergency room is not a fun at all but when you have someone who knows what it feels like to experience that and you two can make fun of the crappy hospital coffee, for a moment that helps to ease some of the tension that this parent is enduring." explained Tracy.
"Parents often do not realize that they have isolated themselves. They walk around feeling different than all the parents they see. The parents at school pick up line are no longer relatable to them because they feel like nobody else is dealing with the challenges that they are. They feel like they can’t relate to their friends and family either – I have been there and it is a horrible feeling that I try to address as early as possible with parents. It is so important to me to help a parent understand if they are self-isolating and explaining to them what natural supports are and how they can utilize theirs." explained Melissa when asked how she supports the parents she works with.
"Like I mentioned, feeling isolated only makes things worse. That's why I try to let the parents I work with know about our support groups. These weekly meetings allow parents dealing with similar struggles to come together and support each other, and brainstorm together." explained Tracy. "Parents have joined the support group in tears in search of the support and understanding that they so desperately needed. Other parents join not planning on sharing but then they resonate with something and open up. It is a really wonderful, non-judgmental community of parents who just get it." said Melissa.
"I always give the families I work with time and space to tell me what is awesome about their child. Most of their time is spent listening and being told what is “wrong” with their child. Doctors, teachers, babysitters, etc. everyone is telling them negative things about their child and that is really draining. I will ask the families I work with to share something good about their child – What makes them laugh so hard they almost fall over? Are they really enjoying a sport/hobby/style of art? Do they have a special bond with the family cat? Sure there are serious challenges, but so much of raising a child is good and they need to have someone to share the good things with too." said Melissa.
"Another thing that parents don't expect me to address is self care for THEM. As parents we may feel selfish if we spend even 10 minutes doing something for ourselves. I take the time to talk to the parents I work with about self-care and explain that it is not selfish. It will only make them a better parent and show their children that taking time for yourself is important and healthy. A parent knows this but to hear it from an outside source almost feels like permission to actually do it. Actually take that walk, go grab that coffee, read that book." explained Melissa.
If you'd like to talk to an FSP to see if they can help you help your child call us at 570-664-8615 or visit here. This service is free and confidential for parents/primary caregivers in PA.
On an IEP team, you are the person who will consistently advocate for your child with a long-term plan in mind but IEP’s are written one year at a time and other team members change year to year. Join the Parent Alliance’s IEP Bootcamp where you’ll learn how to look at each piece of the IEP individually. You’ll gather information about how your child’s challenges affect their whole life, especially their mental wellness, and consider how their goals are working outside of the classroom. Remember, you’re an expert in your child! Each day for 21 days you’ll get 1 simple tip to you evaluate the current IEP and provide critical input for your next meeting. If you’re new to special education, get started on the right foot. If you’ve been at this for a while, you’ll have to opportunity to consider things from a different perspective.