Montana Center 'Empowers' Parents of Children with Disabilities
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Navigating education can be difficult for parents of children with disabilities. An organization in Montana is dedicated to assisting families in this process.
The Montana Empowerment Center is the state's parent training information center - U.S. Department of Education funded programs found in every state that provide free support.
Executive director Rebecca Richards said parents' fight for the education of children with disabilities started in the mid-20th century.
"When the first law came about to educate students with disabilities in the public school system in 1975," said Richards, "they wrote in to have parent training information centers in that law so that parents have an outside advocacy to understand the nuances of their educational rights."
Richards said today there are more than a hundred centers across the country funded to assist families.
The Montana Empowerment Center was founded in 2018. Their education services help families of children with disabilities from birth to age 26.
Richards' organization works with families on a number of issues, including early intervention and K-12 services and the Individualized Education Program, which is a plan set up between parents and educators that outlines special-education services.
She said it also includes a young adult's transition after school, noting this process can look different than for other children turning 18.
"We start talking about life skills," said Richards, "what does that look like? And so we really want to think big picture for those students and help the families with that process and help the students themselves with that process, wherever they're at, depending on their disability."
Richards said the rural nature of Montana can present challenges because fewer services usually are available than in big urban communities.
She said her organization is staffed, managed and governed by parents and individuals who are close to someone with a disability.
"Whether it's a child, a grandchild or a family member that has a disability," said Richards, "we all come to this with very personal ties to the disability world."
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