Federation Staff Offers Assistance and Support to All Families

outreachParents of children with special needs face a variety of challenges in their efforts to meet the health, educational, social, and emotional needs of their child. Imagine the complexity of these efforts for families who are new to our country, adjusting to a whole new way of life, far from their former homes and without the nearby support of family and friends?

The face of the United States is changing, as immigrants and refugees from around the world arrive and start a new chapter in their lives. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of immigrants living in the US grew from 31.1 million to 40.04 million, an increase of 30% in just 11 years. Further, there is great diversity among newly arrived Immigrants. This helps to explain the exciting changes we see in communities across the nation, including our own state and the opportunities we have to learn more about diverse cultures of the world as we support our new neighbors.

In 2012, Massachusetts had 948,061 immigrants, 34% of whom have been residents for less than 10 years1. Thus, our state, too, has a great number of newly arrived residents from a variety of countries around the world, with unique cultural customs and beliefs and languages.

Recognize the many cultural shifts for these families. Many of their countries of origin offer only limited (and often expensive) healthcare services, few opportunities for children with special needs to attend school, and limited venues for peer support to address the emotional challenges of caring for their families. Upon arriving in the United States, may parents face new challenges as they seek to address their children’s needs. For example, the majority of services are offered primarily in English, thus there may be a significant language barrier for our new neighbors.

The Federation, through each of its projects has initiated strategies to identify and address some of the challenges for these new families. Federation staff introduce families to the wide array of educational and health-related services and community-based programs for children with special needs and their families for which they may qualify. The Federation has established an Outreach Committee which includes representatives of each project and meets monthly. Members include the PTI Outreach Team: Oanh Bui, Vietnamese community; Norma Casaya and Marilyn Gutierrez, Latino community; Susan Ou, Chinese community; and Rhea Tavares Smith, Portuguese community as well as additional members including Cathy Hickey of Mass. Family Voices; Paige Parisi, RTSC; Roxanne Hoke-Chandler, Family and Community Engagement Team (FACET); and Mary Castro Summers, Miriam Biurci Scrivener, and Sara Asmerom from Family TIES of Massachusetts. The primary focus of the work of the Outreach Committee is to identify strategies to provide families facing cultural and linguistic barriers with adequate information and support, to enhance the lives of their children and families. Some activities include (1) building cultural awareness in our own staff, as the first step in understanding similarities and differences between cultural groups and to serve as cultural brokers; (2) identifying community-based organizations that serve various immigrant communities, to broaden knowledge and understanding of the needs of newly arrived immigrants, to raise awareness among immigrant families of resources and services for their families; and (3) cultivating awareness among all partners of the varied customs and needs of families in an effort to assure access to services and maximize outcomes for children and families. Staff of the Federation seeks opportunities for professional development, and to build their knowledge and skills, as we strive to offer culturally appropriate services to families.