As the parent of a child with special needs, having access to community resources that will support your family is important. Whether you are looking for an advocacy network, a support group, a peer mentor or general advice, having this information at your fingertips is both helpful and empowering. However, it can often be overwhelming and time consuming to research the places where you can turn for help.
For almost fifty years, St. Francis Children’s Center has been serving children who have special needs, and in that time we have identified a number of resources that can help you access services, find support and network with other families. We know that widening your support system helps to reduce isolation while building your confidence as a parent and caregiver.
Here is an introductory list of organizations that focus on advocacy and family support:
Your Existing Team of Service Providers
Your child’s pediatrician, therapists, child care providers and teachers are there to assist you. This team will give you strategies for working with your child and they can make referrals to specialists and other service providers as needed. If you have questions about your child’s development, have needs that are not being met, or are wondering where you can turn for help, share your concerns with this group.
Your County’s Department of Health and Human Services
There are many important government programs for children with special needs. To learn about Early Intervention/Birth to Three, Children’s Long Term Support, Family Support, and other family resources, visit your county’s disability services website. There you will find basic information on programs that may be available to your child. The website will also offer eligibility, contact and referral information.
A.L.A.S. (Alianza Latina Aplicando Soluciones)
Accessing resources can be especially difficult for families who encounter a language barrier. A.L.A.S. helps Spanish speaking families who have children with special needs by providing advocacy, educational workshops, parent support groups, family events, community building activities, and service referrals.www.alianzalatinawi.org
Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin
At ASSW, parents of children with autism can find information and referrals, networking opportunities, workshops, parent-to-parent forums, youth programs and support groups. www.assew.org/
Family Activity Center
Located within St. Francis Children’s Center is the Family Activity Center, a free, play-based space for parents, children with special needs and siblings, birth to five. Families can drop-in for free play or take advantage of structured activities that encourage socialization, bonding, and networking. https://sfcckids.org/programs-services/family-activity-center
Family Voices of Wisconsin
Family Voices is a trusted resource on health care for children with special needs. Part of a national network, they provide families with tools to make informed decisions, advocate for improved public and private policies, build partnerships among providers and families, and help families connect to one another through their Family Action Network. www.familyvoicesofwisconsin.com
Located in Fox Point, GiGi’s Playhouse is a one-of-a-kind achievement center for children with Down syndrome, their families and the community. Families will find more than 30 therapeutic and educational programs that advance literacy, math skills, motor skills and more. http://gigisplayhouse.org/milwaukee/
The Southeast Regional Center of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
If you have questions about resources that exist in our area, or are seeking one-on-one peer support, the Southeast Regional Center is a great place to start. The Center is located within Children’s Hospital and is staffed by parents of children with special needs, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Center’s website has helpful links and tools for parents. http://southeastregionalcenter.org/
Variety the Children’s Charity helps young people with physical challenges access assistive equipment, transportation, and childhood experiences that insurance will not cover and families cannot afford. Parents should contact Variety to find out if you may qualify for services. www.varietywi.org
Understanding and navigating the educational landscape for children with special needs can be nerve-racking for many parents. WI Facets is there to help you on this journey - from empowering caregivers to be educational advocates, to helping families understand Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs), to facilitating support groups. They will help you ensure your child is receiving the best educational services possible. http://www.wifacets.org/
For a more comprehensive list of resources, you may visit our website at www.sfcckids.org.
Mara Duckens is the executive director of St. Francis Children’s Center