Support for Families of Kids in Special Ed

Discover how Michigan Alliance for Families, a federally funded Parent Training and Information Center, provides all the tools you need to navigate Michigan’s special education system.

ost parents want their kids to have the best education possible with good teachers, a robust curriculum and tutoring and educational guidance to help them be the best they can be.

But for parents of children with disabilities or special health care needs, figuring out how to provide their children those educational opportunities can be extra challenging.

And that’s where Michigan Alliance for Families comes in.

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The Michigan Alliance for Families – which is an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education and the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Special Education Programs – connects parents of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities with information and resources so that they can speak on behalf of their kids and navigate the special education system, too.

“The project was born out of the idea of a couple of advocates who had been working for parents that had kids that needed special education,” says Clare Brick, the Regional Parent Mentor in Southern Wayne County. “Parents would come back with the same issues, so they decided to train parents to advocate for their kids.”

To do this, each area of the state was assigned a number of regional parent mentors based on the population in each area.

“We have three regional parent mentors in Wayne County,” Brick explains. “The further you get away from Wayne County the population goes down, so we might have one that handles four counties, or in the Upper Peninsula one handles the west and the other the east.”

Each of these parent mentors has, or has had, a family member that received special education to ensure that they have firsthand experience with the special education system. Brick, for example, has four kids, and her youngest has Down syndrome. She taps into her own experience to act as a sort of guide to parents who currently have students enrolled in the school system.

“I talk to parents on the phone, exchange emails, meet with them (and) go through paperwork,” she explains.

Michigan Alliance also offers workshops on special education topics with statewide trainers and training partners that can last from one hour to a whole day; plus webinars on topics including how each child learns, behavioral issues and support, transitioning from high school to the real world and preschool prep.

It also provides information about other resources in the community that may offer services that families may benefit from.

“I think the main thing we do for families is give them information and confidence when speaking to their schools,” Brick says. “Parents don’t know what they don’t know. When it comes to special education, there are a lot of different players at the table with that parent. It can be intimidating. We want the parent to know that they are an equal partner at that table.”

They also provide information about other resources  in the community that may offer services families may benefit from – like the basketball team A’Rita Young-Parks’ son, who is moderately cognitively impaired, plays on.

“They help me as far as information, activities and finding local places we can go where special children can be themselves, not get picked on or separated, and live a pleasant life,” the Detroit mom of six says.

“I’ve been blessed with older children beyond my son, so I have assistance with him, but others have no other children, no spouse and no assistance,” Young-Parks adds. “The world is cruel and there’s so many people that pick on babies with special needs, so they get here with a fight. They don’t need more of a fight, and Michigan Alliance helps with that.”

For more information on Michigan Alliance for Families, visit the website at www.michiganallianceforfamilies.org or call 800-552-4821. 

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