Community Support Services
The Pathways for Parents program works with families who receive services from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the staff who support them. Eileen Sandberg is Coordinator for the Pathways program at the Federation for Children with Special Needs.
Pathways works with DCF programs including Community Connections, The Fatherhood Initiative, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Commission, the DCF Family Advisory Committee, and the Family Resource Centers (FRCs). Pathways is also a bridge between these diverse DCF programs and the Federation, providing the Federation with information on the needs at DCF, and letting the DCF programs know about the Federation’s many resources.
The Community Connections Coalitions are networks of local leaders and providers who create awareness around the needs of families in their communities by hosting events, forums, and trainings for parents. The Pathways program participates in statewide meetings of the coalition and serves as a resource on issues related to special education.
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Commission seeks to support the increasing number of families headed by grandparents. The Pathways program provides special education information and supports to this program.
The Pathways coordinator also participates in meetings of the Interagency Fatherhood Working Group and is working to develop topics for its conference to provide supports and engage fathers in parenting children with special needs.
The coordinator also is a member of DCF’s Family Advisory Committee (FAC), which advises the DCF commissioner’s office. FAC is a statewide group of community representatives who have experience with DCF, including parents, people who were involved with DCF as a youth, and other community members. The Pathways program supports the FAC and its initiatives in all areas related to special education.
The Family Resource Centers (FRCs) are a big part of the Pathways program’s work. FRCs are a relatively new resource in Massachusetts. They were established following the passage in 2012 of Chapter 240, An Act Relative to Families and Children Engaged in Services (FACES). This legislation replaced the Child In Need of Services (CHINS) statute, under which children who were runaways or had behavioral or truancy problems which could be brought to juvenile court. While the child was entitled to legal representation in these cases, parents were not and, in some cases, children were removed from the custody of their parents. The CHINS system was particularly difficult for families of children with special needs and problems with school refusal related to anxiety, because no distinction was made under the law for special needs children.
The FACES legislation sought to change the system from punishment to support, with additional resources for families. Under the new law, FRCs began to open across Massachusetts as a network of community-based providers who offer parenting programs, early childhood services, support groups for parents and grandparents, and information and referrals to families.
There are now 22 FRCs in Massachusetts – soon to be 24 – supporting families with and without DCF involvement. Each FRC has a school liaison who works with families with trauma, discipline, and special education issues.
However, one limitation of the FRCs is that the school liaisons are not educational advocates and do not attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings for the FRC families. Therefore, it is important to support parents with trainings about their child’s rights in special education and how to work effectively with schools.
Pathways supports the FRC staff and families by providing trainings, workshops, and answers to parents’ questions in order to help families learn to advocate for their children and to help other community members.
For more information about the Pathways program, contact Eileen Sandberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.