The following is a transcription of the podcast, “Making the Most of the Parent Information and Training Network (Audio).”
Candace Cortiella: On behalf the National Center for Learning Disabilities, I’d like to welcome Connie Hawkins and Jan Serak of the Network of Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Connie and Jan are long-time directors of parent centers and now head up two of the nation’s six regional projects that assist the Network of Parent Centers around the country.
Most importantly, Connie and Jan are both parents of young adults with disabilities, which has brought them to this important work that they have been doing for so many years.
Before Congress included a requirement for Parent Training and Information Centers in the 1983, amendments to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (originally passed in 1975). That’s the law we now know as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Connie, can you tell us why did Congress include a requirement for parent centers in the federal special education law?
Connie Hawkins: I think there were two influences on the beginning of our network of centers. One was the fact that this was a complicated law and it was a new law and it created new processes. Educators are used to staff development of their own people within the educational system. But the question was rightly asked: How do we make sure parents know? And if you remember, as it is today with IDEA, it had a lot of requirements for families and opportunities for families to have partners [through these centers].
We also had the opportunity to have really great leadership in what was called the Bureau of the Education of the Handicapped. They realized that families needed this information but took the risk of saying, “We’re going to move away from professionals and universities training parents.” We already know there are the experts who are other families. This was exciting because it was the beginning of a whole different way for families get information.
Candace Cortiella: That’s very interesting. I think that, as most parents know, once they get involved in special education, there are certainly a lot of rights that are intended to benefit children and parents. But there are also an awful lot of responsibilities expected of the parents. So I think it was only wise of Congress to understand that they needed to create a system that could support the families and help them understand their responsibilities and fulfill their obligation to the provisions of the law.
Connie Hawkins: I also think it was important to model the recognition that parents are the best advocates for, and experts about, their children.
Candace Cortiella: That’s a wonderful point. Jan, what are the essential duties of the parent centers as prescribed by the federal special ed law?
Jan Serak: Parent centers are required to provide training information and assistance to families of children with disabilities. To quote the law, IDEA requires that parent centers: “Meet the needs of parents of children with disabilities to help their children meet, develop mental and functional goals and challenging academic achievement goals that have been established for all children and to be prepared to lead productive independent adult life to the maximum extent possible.”
IDEA also requires that the Training and Information Parent Center meet the needs of low-income parents and parents of limited English proficient children. But IDEA doesn’t exactly define how these charges have to be done. So the ways in which centers actually provide these services vary greatly from center to center across the country depending on the needs of the families in their area and the funding that’s available to those centers.
More than 264,000 parents and professionals receive training annually from the parent centers. They train parents in a variety of ways:
- in person
- through teleconferences, webinars, video conferences
- training modules that are archived on the center’s website
- DVDs they mail out to parents.
There are even some downloadable apps now that some of the centers have developed for use on iPhones and iPods so that they’re reaching out to a younger population of families.