Learning About Community Support for the Families of Children with Disabilities
Reflections on the Local Liaison Learning Group: Parent Leadership Program
John O’Brien with Bryn Fortune, Sharon Dietrich, Joan Blough & Nancy Peeler
The Parent Leadership Program (PLP) team that created and facilitated the Local Liaison Learning Group (Learning Group) between September 1998 and November 1999 gathered in mid-January 2000 to think about what they have learned from their experience. The team thinks of the Learning Group as a sort of applied research setting for investigating the conditions for changes that will make an important difference to families and their communities. This understanding led them to invest in the compilation of a learning history, which captures Learning Group participants’ views of their local projects at four points in the project year. It also led them to invite John O’Brien to spend two days listening to their account of their work and to write these reflections, which express his thoughts after listening to their conversation and reading the project’s records.
Parent-professional teams representing services in twelve counties applied to participate in the project. Their proposalscommitted them and their agen- cies to an ambitious goal: to significantly increase the natural support avail- able to children with disabilities and their families through collaborative local projects involving family members and professionals.
These reflections arise from a learning process designed to support com- munity changes that mostly did not happen. Many participants describe important results (see the Table on pages 4-5 below) but, judged in terms of its intended outcomes, the larger change initiative was mostly unsuccessful. This disappointing outcome does not result so much from the failure of projects that were implemented as from the inability of project teams to overcome the barriers to taking any sustained and broad-based local action to influence their communities. It would be a mistake to draw conclusions about communities’ ability or willingness to offer natural supports based on what happened in these projects: by and large, communities were not asked.