Unfortunately, parent support groups are often started and lead by Moms who may have little experience organizing and managing a group.
This can lead to poor outcomes for individual group members and great frustration for the group leader.
If you are struggling to get your parent-community support group up and running, here are some tips to help your group really take off!1. Learn from the experts.
The staff at Parent to Parent of Pennsylvania have put together an online guide that goes through all the basics of starting and running a parent support group. Visit: http://www.parenttoparent.org
2. Identify why people aren't coming.
=> Is childcare an issue?
Once you know the real issue(s) holding your group back, it will be much easier to solve them. You can arrange for on-site childcare, find different speakers, include a map with your meeting reminder, etc.
For tips on how to keep your meetings flowing see, "Facilitation: The Importance of Managing Group Meetings" at: http://www.nacac.org
3. Talk honestly with your core group about your frustrations and limitations.
By talking honestly with this small group about your frustrations, you can open the door to solving the issues as a group. Also, remember that volunteering does not come naturally to many people; especially if the tasks that need done are things they've not done before. They may feel intimidated by what a good job you've done and feel they could never put together anything half as good. Look for small un-intimidating tasks that will help them get their feet wet or invite them to "help you" do some of the tasks that need to get done. This way they get involved, they become familiar with a part of the job you would like to delegate, and you get some immediate relief.
4. Try to determine why word of mouth isn't helping your group.
=> Are your present members reluctant to recommend your group? If so, why?
=> Have you notified local professionals that your group is available? Many professionals who work with parents would love to have a flyer or contact name to offer when faced with a distraught, stressed out, or overwhelmed parent. Professionals to consider are: doctors, case managers, special education or other school staff, preschool or early intervention programs, hospital social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and vocational rehabilitation workers.
=> Have you utilized the local public service announcement system? These are usually free and can be done in newspapers, on the radio, or on local access cable networks. Be sure to focus not only on the where, what and when of your group but also on the benefits your group can offer such as:
*Providing on-going support
5. Consider merging.
6. Make use of technology.
=> Send out your group newsletter by email to reduce both financial and time expenditures.
Services like Topica.com and Yahoo Groups allow you to do this free of charge. The advantage of having this type of list is that the group members can interact more frequently and build more rapport -- this way they are coming to see friends when meeting time roles around, not strangers. The other advantage is that it allows families to participate that may not be able to arrange childcare during the scheduled meeting times.
=> Make contact with other parents online. For example, both NICHCY State Resources and Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities offer state resource sheets for parents of families with special needs. By sending an email to the contact person listed on these sites, you could have your group listed as an available support in your state.
I hope that some of these ideas will help get your group growing into the active and productive one you envisioned!
Laying Community Foundations : For Your Child With a Disability : How to Establish Relationships That Will Support Your Child After You're Gone by Linda J. Stengle.
One of the most frightening scenarios for parents of disabled or special needs children is the unknown aftermath of their own death - who will care for their adult children then?
There is a long-term care crisis in the US for disabled or special needs adults and people with disabilities, due to a variety of integrated factors: limited choices, expense, discrimination, to name a few. In Laying Community Foundations, author Linda J. Stengle, a long-term care consultant and former director of a private adult residential facility, provides a fresh workable plan for these parents.
Lisa Simmons is founder of the Ideal Lives Project. Our goal is to bring parents, educators, and disability professionals together with the information they need because we believe knowledge is power!