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Support Group Ideas

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Greetings, all.


I haven't been around here much lately because I have been so busy in my new (one year already!) job as a family advocate for families with special needs kids. My agency works with kids with the highest level of mental health issues, and many also have autism, developmental disabilities, or other concurrent diagnoses. With intensive support, most of our kids are able to live in the community, but some are in short or long term placements, i.e. psych hospitals, group homes, or residential facilities. I have been lobbying for a support group for the parents, and we finally are into the serious planning stages.


I thought I would ask y'all what you would like in a support group if such a thing were offered in your area. Or do you know of such a group? Could you tell me about it, or help me get in touch with the leaders?


Childcare is a possibility - I think that is essential for many families.Childcare for siblings might bring the total number of kids to an unmanageable level... Should I try to set up a therapeutic activity for the kids? I think I could have 2 or 3 "skills trainers" (interns or college students already working with the kids in our agency) available for more than basic babysitting.


What kind of structure would be good? Planned curriculum, or just time for venting, or a combination? Guest speakers?


How big a group would be ideal?


Weekly, or more or less frequently? Evenings were my first thought, but days or weekends are also possible.1 or 2 hours?


Should I try to provide coffee and snacks? Limited budget from our non-profit, but it feels important to me. Would a pot-luck dinner with the kids before the group itself starts be a good idea?


What else have I forgotten to ask? I am excited about this idea, and have gotten a lot of interest from the staff and families with my agency. But I haven't attended a support group for 20 years or so, and I don't really know how to start.


Any suggestions would be welcome, and thanks in advance.














post #2 of 6

I love the idea of the pot luck prior to give everyone a chance to get to know each other.  Having child care for all children is really important.  If you exclude siblings, then a parent may not be able to attend.  I'm going to assume that most of the kids are in therapy of one sort or another so it may be nice for the kids to just have time to be kids and play and have the students facilitate that play in a healthy, safe manner.  Coffee would be nice.  Snacks are always welcome as long as they are within your budget of course.  Although it may be a better option to give the parents coffee, tea, water and the kids light snacks (just be careful of allergens).


You have my dream job :)

post #3 of 6

I know how limited budgets are so if it came down between providing some childcare for siblings and any coffee/snacks, I'd do the childcare. Most of the SN families I know would not be able to attend if they could not bring all their kids. 

post #4 of 6

I think you already have some great ideas to use for the support group.  As an organization serving the individuals and families, you might consider having 2-3 support group meetings that cater to the schedule of all those in the communities, as well as providing different themes.  For instance, you could have 1 evening meeting a month, 1 day meeting a month (in morning or late afternoon) and 1 lunch time meeting a month.  You could have a speaker for maybe the lunch time meetings to discuss various topics ranging from education, bullying, life planning, special needs trusts, guardianship, etc.  You could set up the evening & day meetings where parents can discuss a variety of issues, but maybe have a theme topic for each one (and even a speaker once in a while) for the first 30 mins w/ followup questions and leave the remainder of the meeting for networking and parent to parent support.


Setting up sitting for the parents that may have children or adults with special needs is a great way to encourage participation, as well as providing snacks.  In terms of resources, you could contact other local organizations that may be willing to donate volunteer hours to sit with the special needs adults and children and/ or donate foods.  Sometimes if you have a speaker for a meeting that is open to the public, you can contact local businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants in advanced to ask for a donation.  Other resources for volunteers are local churches, local HS that may have students needing to earn volunteer hours and even local universities/ colleges that may have a nursing program or ST, OT or PT program where the students must perform community service hours.  Of course, you want to make sure everyone is comfortable with caring for the special needs child or adult and the parent must remain nearby.


The entertainment/ therapy for the special needs child or adult is a great idea and you might look into incorporating a support group for the siblings.  Many times the siblings have a heavy burden in caring for and living with their sibling with special needs.  They need to have something special for them and have an outlet with other children who are experiencing the same life issues.  So you could separate them and have them just hang out and do things together.


Just some thoughts.

Good luck.  This is a wonderful thing that you are doing.

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the thoughtful replies (keep them coming!) Yes, I agree that childcare for siblings will be important. I also like the idea of one evening and maybe a lunchtime meeting as well. Some parents could come more easily during school hours, others work during the day.


Oops - I thought I finished this and sent it last night. No time this morning - I'll be back...

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Well, I met with the Powers That Be (my boss). Lots of enthusiasm, but little or no funding for this project. On a zero budget, I am going to try days and evenings and 2 different locations, and see what works. Our agency serves a large, spread out metro area, and transportation can be a huge obstacle. So I will do two a month eastside and two westside. Many of our families can best get out while the kids are in school, others work during the day. So I will have 4 meetings a month, and people can attend when and where they can. That can be adjusted over time.


I can't offer childcare at this time, due to liability as well as financial reasons. For many of our kids, the supervision would need to be one on one. But families will be able to schedule their child's regular skills trainer appointment to coincide with the group if they choose.


I can only spend $35/month (petty cash limit) on coffee/snacks. I was thinking to just provide a large bowl of fruit and muffins each week, and folks can be on their own for drinks. I live in an area famous for gourmet coffee, and just can't afford the "good stuff". Besides, most people show up for meetings with a cup of their own.


I won't be starting before January (time to get past the holidays and to arrange the locations), and welcome further suggestions, especially regarding format and structure.


Even though I can't start with all the frills, I am excited about this project. We families with special needs kids can become so isolated, and need support and understanding more than ever.




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