PTIs reach out
In 1990, a revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) instituted a requirement that the boards of all Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) include parents and professionals who are members of minority groups. PTls--funded by the Division of Personnel Preparation, Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education--help parents to understand their children's specific needs, communicate more effectively with professionals, participate in the educational planning process and obtain information about relevant programs, services and resources. In addition, the revised version of the IDEA provided funding for "experimental projects," in which PTIs would work with parents in traditionally underserved or unserved communities, both urban and rural.
Experimental projects have allowed PTls to develop community networks, create training materials that reflect positive, multicultural images of people with disabilities and their families, and train professionals on issues of cultural diversity. Experimental projects also offer workshops and one-on-one support to help parents participate in the development of appropriate Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their children.
South Central Los Angeles and New Orleans are two areas in which experimental projects are underway. In South Central, Loving Your Disabled Child (LYDC, 4715 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90043; 213/299-2925) offers educational workshops, dramatic presentations, a family resource library and parent support group meetings. LYDC also provides telephone support in times of crisis, and gets parents involved in training other parents to be peer counselors. The Pyramid Parent Training Project in New Orleans (3132 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, LA 70125; 504/895-5970) uses a holistic approach to helping families with special needs; they develop individualized service plans for these families and refer them to other useful resources. Raising parents, awareness of their rights regarding special education is another prime focus of Pyramid Parent Training's efforts. In each of these cities, experimental projects are helping to counter the neglect that the communities have traditionally had to endure.
In the spring of 1995, representatives from 16 experimental projects created Grassroots, a national, multicultural consortium of community parent resource centers. The consortium aims to promote leadership development within underserved communities. Grassroots publishes Tapestry, a newsletter highlighting the activities and winning strategies of community organizations throughout the country.
PTIs have also taken steps to increase diversity in their own offices by expanding boards of directors, hiring new staff members and recruiting new volunteers. Some PTIs have established satellite offices in urban neighborhoods, Native American communities and reservations, and rural and remote areas. They have translated and created resource materials to address the languages and cultures of dozens of groups. They have joined forces with coalitions, advocacy groups and community service agencies to mobilize resources and expand and coordinate services. Here are just a few of the projects that have reached more than 150,000 parents in over 50 culturally diverse communities throughout the country:
North Carolina moves ahead
North Carolina's Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC, P.O. Box 16, Davidson, NC 28036; 800/962-6817; 704/892-1321; 704/892-5028, fax) is forging partnerships with other service organizations such as the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Piedmont (SCDAP, 1102 E. Market St., Greensboro, NC 27420-0964; 800/733-8297; 910/274-1507; 910/275-7984, fax). ECAC staff members are excited about participating with the SCDAP in monthly teleconference discussions involving parents and professionals from across the state.
ECAC has also started two new parent groups--Across All Cultures and Minority Involvement for Exceptional Children. Across AU Cultures is a support group comprised of parents from different backgrounds who work to educate others about cultural differences. Minority Involvement for Exceptional Children is a support group for African-American parents who are often in the minority at support group meetings for specific disabilities. In addition, ECAC has created Faces, a newsletter for Spanish-speaking families. Parent training materials have also been translated into Spanish
Advocacy on the Alaskan airwaves
Alaska's Parents As Resources Engaged in Networking and Training Statewide (PARENTS, 540 W. International Airport Rd., Ste. 200, Anchorage, AK 99518; 800/478-7678; 907/563-2246; 907/563-2257, fax; firstname.lastname@example.org, e-mail) is pumping on-going plans for including diverse and underserved groups in training sessions--especially rural, Native American families. PARENTS has been reaching these families by translating written materials into oral Native American languages and then disseminating the information via radio broadcasts that can be received in rural parts of the state.
PARENTS has also reached many families through collaboration with local school districts and human services agencies. Upon requests from school boards, staff members have conducted parent training sessions and served as family advocates during the EP process. These efforts have produced concrete results--a recent statewide conference was attended by a number of parents from traditionally underserved communities.
Diversity in Minnesota
In Minneapolis, staff members at PACER Center (4826 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55417-1098; 800/537-2237 or 612/8272966, voice/TTY; 612/827-3065, fax; email@example.com, e-mail) are also reaching out to parents of diverse cultures. For example, staff members from Southeast Asian backgrounds have held six workshops, developed a videotape for professionals and translated training materials into Southeast Asian languages, and an African-American staff member leads a support group for African-American patents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). PACER has also developed culturally-appropriate resource materials for Native American families on issues including fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol effects (FAS/FAE). A Native American parent advocate is now working with families in the Detroit Lakes area and other communities. Finally, PACER is working with local families to assist in developing programs and resource materials for the Hispanic community.
Empowering parents in Mississippi
In Mississippi, Empower, a new program of Parent Partners (3111 N. State St, Jackson, MS 39216; 800/366-5707; 601/366 5707; 601/362-7361, fax) serves families in the rural, impoverished Mississippi delta region. Empower works with smallgroups of parents, providing information about disabilities, helping families find useful services and offering parent-to-parent matching.
Parent Partners, with the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, co-sponsored a training conference that attracted more than 300 participants--well over half were members of minority groups. In addition Parent Partners now provides more effective assistance to individual families by using resource materials reflecting the cultural diversity of families served.
Satellite offices span New Jersey
In New Jersey, satellite offices of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN, 516 North Ave. E., Westfield,NJ 07090-1446; 800/654-7726 or 908/654-7726, voice/TTY; 908/654-7880, fax) are reaching underserved communities. Offices in Newark and Paterson serve Hispanic and African-American parents primarily. Bilingual staff members and resource materials are available to Spanish-speaking families.
SPAN's main office also has many resources for parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds. As part of a collaborative relationship with the New Jersey Department of Health, SPAN staff members work part-time in statewide health department offices providing parent-to-parent support for families whose children have recently been diagnosed with a disability. They help these families find support groups and obtain appropriate educational assistance and other services. SPAN also works with local organizations, such as Head Start and teen pregnancy centers, to publicize available services. These outreach efforts have been successful; SPAN served 7,000 clients last year, and 25 percent were members of minority groups.
The effort is just beginning...
Though these efforts have succeeded in increasing services to families from aD backgrounds and communities, the PTIs acknowledge that much more remains to be done.