RTSC Making Difference Conference 2015
By Elaine Arsenault, Training and Outreach Specialist, Western MA –
Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC)
Each year the Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC) sponsors a conference to express appreciation to the dedicated individuals who volunteer their time as Special Education Surrogate Parents (SESPs), Department of Families and Children (DCF) Foster/Adoptive Caregivers, and the professionals who serve them.
The 4th annual RTSC Making a Difference Conference held at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel & Trade Center in Marlborough was a huge success, thanks to the financial support from Seyfarth Shaw, Jason Hayes Foundation, Sasson Turnbull Ryan and Hoose, Tom Canel, Netina Nelsoms, and The Addison Group. In addition to the financial support, we had wonderful, generous presenters and volunteers from our partner organization, EDCO Collaborative, and Federation staff, who assisted us throughout the day.
In Massachusetts, children in state custody who receive special education services depend on SESPs to protect their legal right to a free and appropriate education. SESPs are volunteers who act on behalf of individual students with all the rights and authority of a parent in the matters of special education. For the children in our program, education is a lifeline in a challenging world. SESPs help them access services and develop tools they need to grow into successful adults. Since SESPs generally work alone, this conference provides a unique opportunity for attendees to learn and network with each other, child welfare professional and RTSC staff.
The day began with introductions from Rich Robison, the Federation’s Executive Director and RTSC Project Director, Renee Williams. Dr. Nancy Rappaport, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was this year’s keynote speaker. She gave an informative talk about providing support for children with challenging behaviors. Dr. Rappaport described how misbehavior can be a symptom of a disability that requires a paradigm shift in how we respond. Later that day the afternoon keynote speaker Marty Mittnacht, State Director of Special Education, gave a special “Mini-State of the State” lecture on a variety of issues, including the State Systemic Improvement Plan and Low Income Education Access Project.
The conference also included four workshops that addressed transitioning to adult life, bullying, the impact of toxic stress, and trauma-informed evaluations and programs — all critical issues for DCF-involved children.
Dr. Heather Forkey is the Chief of the Child Protection Program and Clinical Director for the Foster Children Evaluation Program at the University of Massachusetts Children’s Medical Center and Associate Professor at the UMass School of Medicine. Her workshop Developmental and Educational Implications of Toxic Stress talked about the concept of toxic stress, how to identify the symptoms and then how to develop strategies to address families and children at risk from adversity or impacted by trauma.
Dr. Jennifer DelRey currently works in private practice where she consults with school districts, parents, and attorneys, regarding children with special educational, emotional, and social needs. In her workshop Trauma Assessments and Trauma-Informed Programing in the School Setting, Dr. DelRey gave an overview of the different types of trauma, the impact of trauma-based symptoms on school functioning, and how to craft trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive school-based programing.
Leslie Hughes is an autism public education specialist through the Autism Special Education Legal Support Center at Massachusetts Advocates for Children and a parent of a child with disabilities. In her workshop IEP and School-Wide Strategies to Prevent Bullying of Students, Ms. Hughes talked about district-wide bullying and prevention plans, staff training, and IEP protection for students with disabilities.
Marilyn Weber, a seasoned parent consultant and advocate specializing in transition issues, gave attendees a wealth of knowledge in her workshop Transition to Life after High School: How do we Get There? She touched on the best education, transition, economic outcomes, employment opportunities, and independent living outcomes for youth.
Between workshop sessions, the nearly 200 attendees browsed the tables of exhibitors from programs around the state: American Training Inc., Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, Crystal Springs School, Dare Family Services, Families Affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD, Kennedy Day School at Franciscan Hospital for Children, Northeast Arc, Salem State University, and Special Needs Advocacy Network, Inc. (SPAN).
At the end of the conference attendees walked away with resources and knowledge they can use in working with youth in care. Program evaluations reflected on how much attendees learned and how grateful they were to connect with others. One woman said ‘I only wish there was more time,” and another, “This is useful information to use with any student.” Many said they could not wait until next year when we can all be together again.
The next Making a Difference conference will be on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, so save the date. We hope to see you there.