Importance of Family Engagement in Community Groups
Diane Perry, a PEAL Parent Advisor, was recently named Chairperson of the Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP). This panel works to improve special education in Pennsylvania and serves in an advisory capacity for the PA Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning. Federal special education regulations require that each state establish an advisory panel whose members include representatives from specific stakeholder groups, including families. The contributions of Diane and other family members on SEAP has been key in ensuring that the family vision of inclusiveness and presumed competence of students with disabilities is continually present as issues are considered and advice is provided.
SEAP is just one example of decision-making groups that families, youth and self-advocates can participate in at the local and state level. PEAL team members and other families participate in groups including: Local Task Force on the Right to Education (LTF) in every Intermediate Unit region, Local Interagency Coordinating Councils (LICC), State Interagency Coordinating Council (SICC), and others to make sure that we have a voice when decisions are made that affect people with disabilities in our communities.
Sharing insights that your family has experienced while living with a disability, and/or special health care needs is a powerful tool to influence decision-making. Many boards and groups have a requirement to include family members and individuals who are self-advocates because first-hand experiences with the impact of programs and services are critical perspectives. Some families join a group because they have seen a need for a change in how the “systems” operate, while others join as an opportunity to learn how decisions are made and connect with other families.
“While I may not have been personally touched by every injustice, I felt it was important to join, not only for the disability community, but also to give back and continue to break down barriers as families had done before me.” Diane Perry, Parent Advisor, PEAL Center
In addition to influencing positive outcomes for people with disabilities, membership to groups and committees provides other benefits. Families can often feel alone while they navigate the special education or health care systems; there can be “us vs. them” mentalities that can make you feel isolated. However, by joining these groups you can connect with other families who have shared experiences.
For more information about ways to bring your family voice to decision-making groups in your area, contact PEAL [email protected] or call us at 866-95-1040.