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How to Start a FETA Group
book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy energized me and gave me direction. In
the FETA book,
I learned why support groups are so important.
The group will help parents gain knowledge and skills to be effective advocates for their children. Instead of showing their emotions to school officials, parents can bring their problems to the group and receive guidance about how to handle specific problems.
As parents learn about the "rules of the game" and SMART IEPs, schools will realize that involving parents benefits them too. CAUSE, a state Parent Training organization, has offered to help with the parent training.
Do you have advice about how to start a group where parents can come together, learn information and skills, share concerns, and support each other? - from Chuck in Michigan
idea! Your idea of starting a group to teach parents how to be effective
advocates while also providing support is excellent.
Before I discuss ways to start a FETA group, I would like to share a story with you.
Last year, we went to Hawaii to do a two-day
advocacy training program (Boot Camp). In Hawaii, people live on islands
that are quite distant from one another. Travel between islands is by
plane so many people cannot afford to leave their islands. You can imagine
how isolated many of these parents are.
The parents who attended Boot Camp went back to their islands and started FETA groups where they teach other parents the skills they learned. They are using our books, From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition and Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, as texts for these FETA groups.
Each Boot Camp parent is having a huge
positive impact on many others. Maybe it goes back to the slogan, "If
you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."
Note:Wrightslaw Multimedia Training on CD-ROM was released in 2008, perfect for individual, staff, or parent group training. For enhanced training use the 6.5 hour program Special Education Law and Advocacy. Also available are Legal Requirements of IEPs and Understanding Your Child's Test Scores. The 40% discount on bulk orders applies to all WebEx Training.
Pitfalls & Strategies
When you start a group, there are some issues you should keep in mind.
If the members do not make a commitment
to learning, they are likely to spend time and energy complaining. If
the group turns into a gripe session, you will not accomplish your objectives.
Trust, Loss of Trust, Betrayal
When a child is first identified with a disability, many parents feel relieved. Assuming that school and medical personnel are "the experts," they turn decision-making over to others. They trust others to make wise decisions on their child's behalf. During this honeymoon stage, parents may not understand that they need to learn advocacy skills.
Eventually, something happens that shakes
the parent's trust and leads the parent to question the school. If these
trust issues are not resolved satisfactorily, communication between parent
and school may break down. Trust is damaged. (We discuss these issues
in depth in Chapter 6 of FETA.)
How will parents learn about your group?
Here are some publicity strategies that work.
Print flyers and distribute them where parents will see them:
Many school personnel are closet advocates
for kids. If you have a school directory and funds for postage, you may
want to send flyers to school personnel - teachers, guidance counselors,
administrators, speech language pathologists, and others.
News Releases for Free Publicity
Most newspapers include announcements about community events and groups as a public service. Send a news release about your FETA group to the local newspaper.
Does the newspaper have a website? Does the website have a community events section? Send a news release to the webmaster.
Does one reporter write stories about parenting, education, or health issues? If you educate the reporter about the issues parents are facing, this reporter may do a story about these issues - and how your group will help.
Does your town have a radio or television show that makes announcements about community events? Fax or email your news release to these shows.
& FetaWeb for Free Publicity
to request a free listing for your FETA group in your state Yellow
House Law Press offers a special 40%
discount on bulk orders from advocacy organizations and individuals who
provide advocacy training and/or training. This discount is available
for boxes of 20 books, 40 books, 60 books, etc. (minimum order is 20 books)
You wrote that you want the school to realize that parent participation is beneficial to them. It sounds like you want to change school culture.
I have another story to share with you.
In February 2002, we did an advocacy training program in Skokie, Illinois, near Chicago. This program was organized by Chuck Kusar, a parent who started an organization called Special Connections.
On February 23, nearly 400 people came to Niles North High School for a Wrightslaw advocacy training program. (Article about program)
The principal, special education director,
and several school board members gave us a warm welcome. They attended
our program. Why did these school officials give permission for us to
do an advocacy training program in the high school?
Schools will change when we educate, energize and mobilize parents and school personnel. We don't need an army to accomplish this objective. We need small dedicated groups of parents who understand the obstacles, know what they want to accomplish, are patient and determined, and do not quit when the going gets tough or the job takes longer than they expected.
Keep us posted about your FETA group!