Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Spotlight on the We Are Parents Too Program

Parents with developmental disabilities are frequently considered unable to provide adequately for their children, and as a result the youngsters then end up being placed in the foster care system. According to Through the Looking Glass (TLG), a disability nonprofit agency in Berkeley, California, the out-of-home placement rate in foster care for children of parents with intellectual disabilities is 25 to 60%.

In the 1980’s Sinergia pioneered a parent training and education program for parents with developmental disabilities.  It was prompted by our experiences providing community housing and supports for families headed by persons with developmental disabilities who lived with their infants and young children.  The premise was that intensive services, supports and parent training were needed in order to help the mothers and fathers become effective parents and keep their families together. This was the beginning of the “We Are Parents Too” program.   We are very appreciative that through these many years the NYS Office of People with Developmental Disabilities has supported and funded this program which has helped countless families that traditionally have been invisible and underserved.

The program continues to train and help parents to preserve their families by offering a 10 week series of workshops which focus on appropriate discipline, custody issues, nutrition, domestic violence and housing topics (the pictures in this article were taken during a graduation ceremony for this course). In addition to the informational workshops, the program coordinator also conducts supervised visits with the parent and child, and assists in the reunification process. The parent coaching we offer is unique to Sinergia.

The “We Are Parents Too” has also formalized a parent support group for parents with developmental disabilities. This support group is especially important for the participants who have lost custody of their children, since the separation can often be traumatic, confusing and distressing. The support group helps parents to become self-advocates, gain insight into their own behavior and establish a network. Studies report that 90% of parents with disabilities are socially isolated.  Through the support group parents have an opportunity to meet others that are going through similar experiences.  Parents with developmental disabilities, especially those from low socio economic groups, often feel discriminated and judged when assumptions are made about their parenting abilities. A specially designed peer support group brings hope, increases socialization skills and the sharing of information, resources and advocacy strategies.

Isabel Malavet (pictured left in the background), the coordinator of the program, is a tireless advocate on behalf of participating parents and works with the Agency for Children’s Services, Family Court, the Community Partnership Program in East Harlem and the Parent Advocates for the Child Welfare Organizing Project. For more information contact 212-643-2840.

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