Helping Parents of Children with Special Needs: The Role of a Family Support Navigator (FSN)
The African proverb, ‘it takes a village’ is a fitting phrase for parents who are raising children with disabilities. In my family, for example, each one of us are strengthened by the meaningful interactions with family and friends, at school or work, and in our community. Since our family is impacted by a disability, we also rely on supports and specialized services as part of our village of care. When these supports and services fit the needs of our children and family, we function with greater ease connecting and contributing at home and beyond.
Unfortunately, if support entities designed to help us aren’t aligning well with our family’s needs and goals, we as parents must manage the added stressors to reduce the impact they have on our families. Schools, medical or mental health sources, public agencies, private organizations, as well as advocacy and support groups each have their own area of focus, guidelines, and funding sources. Some agencies may be able to offer a case manager for support. Yet case managers are often trained to only provide us services and support specific to their agency. For parents, it’s important that the supports we need are within reach, easy to navigate, and make sense.
Parents can simplify their experiences connecting to resources by working with a certified Family Support Navigator (FSN). A certified FSN is an individual or family member who has been impacted by a disability and has gained extensive knowledge of the many resources within the community not limited to one agency, funding source, or organization’s scope. The FSN model was developed by Wayne State University’s Developmental Disabilities Institute (DDI) in Detroit, Michigan, in collaboration with the Easter Seals. The overall objective of an FSN is to provide other individuals impacted by a disability with a one-stop resource to enhance the well-being of their families.
Here in Minnesota, I work as a certified FSN offering consultation sessions and educational services to parents raising a child with a disability. As an FSN, my aim is to help parents simplify the experience of connecting to needed supports within the community or among special care systems. We do this by creating an action plan that focuses on the family’s goals and needs while addressing any barriers that might be getting in the way. By providing parents with a family centered approach to planning and connecting, an FSN can help strengthen our families as well as the communities where we belong.