The folks at the MA Department of Public Health’s Division for Perinatal, Early Childhood & Special Health Needs are doing some amazing and important work. They have created the Family Leadership Training Institute, a special training program for parents of young children with special health care needs (CSHCN). When Linda Freeman, recently retired from the Institute for Community Inclusion, called me to say that she and Suzanne Gottlieb from the DPH were developing this training program, and wondered if I would come do a workshop on conflict resolution for their group of 23 parents, I knew I had to say yes—how do you say no to something like that? But I was also intimidated by the challenge.
Linda explained that “The goal for the series is to help parents develop their skills as leaders so that they will be equipped to make systems and programs improvement on behalf of CSHCN.” She went on to explain that all of the participants were taking on change projects designed to help not just their own kids, but other kids with special health care needs in their communities. Some of them are working on making changes in their kids’ schools, or even their towns’ school systems; some are working at getting their local playgrounds made more accessible; and more. And all of the parents, I would soon learn, face an enormous range of personal challenges, from getting appropriate accommodations and medical care for their own kids, to working out appropriate educational plans and supports, to dealing with the ignorance of other families, to helping their kids learn to deal with hurtful behavior from other kids.
Ok. Three hours to introduce a set of ideas and skills that this courageous group of parents could take and put to use in constructively engaging the range of conflicts they were likely to encounter as they navigated all that. No problem.
Well, it turned out it wasn’t hard at all, and the reason was the group of parents I met that Saturday morning in September. What an extraordinary group. Each and every one was raising a child (or children) with significant medical challenges, and in the face of that had decided to undertake to make changes not just for their own kids, but for the other kids in their communities with similar challenges. And so they eagerly engaged with every idea I had to offer—they knew they were going to be running into all sorts of obstacles, and they were looking for any tools they could use. That also meant we had to have some pretty serious conversations about how to put some of these tools to use. After all, they were no strangers to the kinds of obstacles we were talking about, and they had a lot of questions about how to adapt these tools to a great range of challenges. But even more than that, they were full of great ideas. I can’t wait to see what they do.