Third Annual Conference for Special Education Surrogate Parents
The Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC) once again brought the Commonwealth’s Special Education Surrogate Parents together to acknowledge the extraordinary service they provide to students in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. On September 30th in Marlborough, MA over 150 people gathered to listen to the morning’s inspiring keynote presentation by Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, a pediatrician and social epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and the founding director of the Vital Village Community Engagement Network. The audience rose to their feet in appreciation of her powerful words about the impact of childhood trauma on the developing brain and the correlation between adverse health outcomes and childhood maltreatment. She hit a poignant note when she shared the experience of Maya Angelou’s traumatic childhood and how Angelou overcame her adversity, including five years of voluntary muteness, to become a beloved and distinctive voice of our nation.
This year for the first time, foster, adoptive, and kinship parents were invited to the Conference. These families are DCF’s most valuable community assets and the RTSC welcomed them at trainings this year. Exhibitors also shared their services and expertise at tables displaying valuable information and handouts.
The four workshops held concurrently in morning and afternoon sessions included a review by Jerry Mogul, Executive Director and attorney Amanda Klemas from Mass Advocates for Children, of new laws and what they mean for parents, teachers, and others involved with youth at risk. Among the issues discussed were Chapter 222, the new discipline regulations for all students; the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, key portions of which were adopted as part of the MA Reduction in Gun Violence Law; and the Autism Omnibus Bill.
Laura Malloy, Director of Yoga Programs and Co-Director for the Education Initiative at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Mass General Hospital also presented a session on stress management. In addition to teaching the Relaxation Response, Malloy explained how learning to change negative thoughts to more adaptive ways of thinking can build resiliency and help us and our students face stressful situations with more confidence. Participants were noticed exiting the session in a significantly relaxed and happy state!
Dr. Stuart Ablon, Director of Think:Kids at Mass General Hospital and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presented a workshop on the struggles to treat, teach and parent children with challenging behavior. Dr. Ablon introduced an approach to remodel discipline for these children called Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), which provides a practical evidence-based process for trauma-informed care that everyone at school and home can follow.
Christine Riley, an educational advocate in the community, and Jane Crecco of the RTSC, provided many SESPs and foster and adoptive parents the opportunity to examine Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) for students with challenging behaviors in various levels of state care. After determining the strengths of the student, participants listened to ways in which they could use those “islands of competency” to provide meaningful supports and services through the IEP process.
During the lunchtime break, the audience listened to a panel discussion of education professionals from across the state discuss challenges and opportunities for collaboration in the IEP process. Susan Stelk, the Education Director at DCF, was able to round out the discussion with some helpful insights and the offer to disseminate several documents to clarify some difficult issues. These documents are now available for everyone on the RTSC website, www.fcsn.org/rtsc.