Supporting Parents Who Have Kids With Special Needs with Gabriela Ramirez, CPS Social Worker & Loyola SMHAPP Certificate Student
Editor’s Note: Today I want to share a collection of great stuff from Ms. Gabriela Ramirez, a veteran school social worker in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and a 2nd-year School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) certificate student. In this post, you’ll find a collection of resources, strategies, and innovative practices that Gaby has been developing as part of her SMHAPP project to provide support to the parents of the kids at her school, Blair Early Childhood Center. It has been a joy to work with her in the SMHAPP and to see all the different ways her work to do parent support is making a difference, and to know that she and her fellow EC/Pre-K SSW colleagues are working hard to support their families during this pandemic time.
A Selection of Gabriela Ramirez’ Work
- “How Can We Best Support Families of Students with Special Needs?: A SSWNetwork Forum” 1/26/20
- “Helping Parents of Special Needs Students Manage Their Stress: A SSWN Research Brief,” 1/31/20
- Saturday Morning SSWNetwork LiveChat featuring Gabriela Ramirez (transcript published below) 2/1/ 20
- “Parent Support in an Early Childhood Specialty School” (Gaby’s SMHAPP School-Change Project), 4/5/20
- “Early Childhood/Pre-K SSW During a Pandemic: A SSWNetwork Webinar” (Gaby will be part of a panel of 3 EC SSW sharing what they’re doing to support their families and schools during this crisis. 4/23/20 10-11 a.m. central time, free to register at SSWNetwork.)
SSWNetwork LiveChat: Supporting Our Parents
Another great LiveChat here, with tons of good ideas and resources, this time on how to support parents of kids with special needs. Big shout-out to Gaby Ramirez, who led us on February 1st sharing these resources and her practice wisdom.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:09 amMy name is Gaby Ramirez and I have been working in an early childhood special ed school for 8 years now. I “inherited” a parent support group and have developed it over time.
Laura Montiel09:06 amGlad to be here
Michael Kelly09:06 amI know a lot of us know each other already, but let’s just do a quick intro of your name, where you practice, and what questions you might have about supporting parents that we can try to get into today?
Michael Kelly09:08 amProf. Michael Kelly Loyola SMHAPP certificate, longstanding interest in parent support, going back to leading parent, grandparent and father’s groups in my K-12 career (1992-2006). I’m eager to get into the great evidence-informed stuff that Gaby posted this past week, as well as share what practice wisdom this group has (and I know you have a lot!)
Carlos Evans09:08 amCarlos Evans Peoria Public Schools What strategies have been helpful in getting students to attend a meeting as a group to discuss their needs and experiences with their children who have special needs? How are you parent groups structured? How long do they last? How do you close?
Michael Kelly09:09 amThese are great questions Carlos! Let’s make sure we hit on all of them today before we go!
Carlos Evans09:10 amAwesome
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:11 amCarlos, thanks for the questions. At the beginning of the year, we have a general meeting for all parents and that is when I promoted the group. I send weekly reminders via paper fliers as well as messages on the Remind app. I have noticed that since I started doing separate English and Spanish groups the attendance has gone up in both groups. The groups are weekly for 1.5 hours on Wednesday mornings
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:12 amUsually, we start with introductions and parents sort of naturally update each other on how they are doing. Then I present some kind of topic or resource. We always have coffee and treats. It is pretty informal. We sometimes have guest speakers.This week, we had someone present on accessing Medicaid and Snap.
Michael Kelly09:13 amThis is great info Gaby, keep going…I’m also really interested Carlos in your question for Gaby and the group about “closing” the group session. Can you expand on that a bit…?
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:14 amSure, we usually close the group talking about what we will discuss at the next meeting. I have thought about closing with a mantra of some sort or some type of breathing exercise but haven’t done it yet.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:15 amAt the end of the meeting, some parents stick around and have conversations with each other. They really enjoy this time.
Michael Kelly09:15 amThat’s really interesting about closing with a mantra or breathing exercise Gaby, because it makes me think of that meta-analysis article we posted about last night and how that was seen to be beneficial for parental stress management, right?
Laura Montiel09:16 amI like that structure. You give the parents what they need.
Carlos Evans09:16 amSo you lesson plan for at least two groups at a time so that you will be able to communicate next meeting’s topics at the current meeting, correct?
Michael Kelly09:16 amI agree Laura–Gaby you seem like you’ve really worked to be attuned to the needs of your parents, and now to deliver the groups in both Spanish and English the way you are, I’m not surprised that you’re seeing attendance go up too!
Carlos Evans09:17 amWhere do the funds for coffee and treats come from?I think seeing the flier that you send out, could be helpful?
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:17 amthank you Laura. Yes, Dr. Kelly. Mindfulness is definitely something that I want to incorporate more. I will be following up with the program that was mentioned in the Lindo article: Mindfulness Awareness for Parenting Stress.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:18 amYes, I try to plan out the month’s topics. Parents bring in treats and school provides coffee.Yes, I can share the flier with you, Carlos
Laura Montiel09:18 amThat’s so important. Parents with Special Needs can be under a lot of pressure and stress. I have a parent who her daughter is hospitalized at lease once a year. So sad.
Michael Kelly09:19 amSo Gaby why don’t we get a bit into this article you excerpted at the start of the week, Reichman, N. E., Corman, H. & Noonan, K. (2007, December). Impact of child disability on the family. Maternal & Child Health Journal, 12, 679-683. “For parents, having a disabled child may increase stress, take a toll on mental and physical health, make it difficult to find appropriate and affordable child care, and affect decisions about work, education/training, having additional children, and relying on public support. It may be associated with guilt, blame, or reduced self-esteem. It may divert attention from other aspects of family functioning. The out-of-pocket costs of medical care and other services may be enormous. All of these potential effects could have repercussions for the quality of the relationship between the parents, their living arrangements, and future relationships and family structure. “
Carlos Evans09:19 amThanks Gabby
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:19 amVery sad Laura. On top of all the fears and stress, parents still have to function and provide for the families
Michael Kelly09:20 amI’m eager to have people read that excerpt and think a bit together about the stresses our parents face (like Laura just shared)…I have to say the article you found and shared Gaby were really powerful (I’ve had several people on SSWNetwork and in our 4th SMHAPP cohort say that they really opened their eyes and affirmed what they see, too…)
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:21 amYes, Dr. Kelly. I try my best to provide resources that are practical and helpful in reducing parental stress. Some of the resources that parents do not know about can include: respite support, case management services, and resources like SSI.
Michael Kelly09:21 amBoth the Reichmann article I excerpted above, as well as the meta-analysis we just posted a RB on last night: https://schoolsocialwork.net/helping-parents-of-special-n…
Carlos Evans09:22 amTrue, I think it why some of the parents of our most challenging students stop answering teacher calls, especially when they think that all the teacher wants to do is complain about their child’s behavior.
Michael Kelly09:22 amHi Frederi…are you here to join us to talk parent support? If so, welcome say hi and tell us where you work…
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:23 amI agree Carlos that parents can isolate themselves or disconnect from the school.
Laura Montiel09:23 amAll great resources Gaby and you’re right parents don’t know about the resources.And the world. They disconnect from the world sometimes.
Michael Kelly09:23 amabsolutely Laura–that disconnect can be real and really damaging.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:23 amYes! Thank you Laura. I’m always looking out for new resources. I also like to look at hospital evaluations because they list a ton of resources for the families.
Michael Kelly09:24 amSo I have a question for the group: how would your parents respond to reading that excerpt about the stresses they experience?
Laura Montiel09:24 amWe need to connect more on this Gaby. I’ll look at hospital list too and see how else to support my special need parents.I believe they would agree and add to it.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:25 amyes, Laura! Any time!
Michael Kelly09:26 amThanks for that Laura–I think if the evidence-based material Gaby shared this week was packaged right (summarizing the findings, breaking them into more understandable language and concepts in some places) I think the parents I’ve worked with would really see themselves, feel heard, and appreciate the evidence-based interventions for stress management too.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:27 amI agree Dr. Kelly. I think it would help parents feel empowered and see how strong they really are.
Carlos Evans09:27 amI think that my parents would feel validated
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:27 amyes!
Michael Kelly09:28 amSo speaking of empowering parents, can you tell us a bit more Gaby about that meta-analysis article and what you learned from writing about it? (It was such a pleasure to read and edit your summary and get it out on SSWN)
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:30 amthank you! It was helpful to read about specific strategies that were found helpful in decreasing stress for parents. Both Behavioral Parent Training (BPT) and Coping Skills interventions (CSI) were found to have positive effects. I enjoyed that the authors gave specifics about what kinds of information was offered to parents in each.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:31 amIn BPT, they focused on strategies that change challenging behaviors and in CSI they focused on strategies that change how parents cope with the challenging behaviors. I think both are equally important!
Carlos Evans09:31 amI have learned from my experience working students with special needs that sometimes, just parent to child communication gets strained and that causes more issues, so just working with the student and family on how best to communicate with each other and how to listen for understanding versus listening just to respond has been helpful.
Michael Kelly09:32 amI agree Gaby the detail in the article that offered resources and even some “how-tos” was exceptional for an article like this one, which can often get very narrowly focused on the search, analysis and write-up parts and leave out those crucial details for practitioners to learn from and use…good stuff (and the kind of way I try to write my research articles as well on my good days!)
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:32 amYes, Carlos, communication skills was one of the skills taught in the CSI interventions.
Michael Kelly09:32 am”listen for understanding” is crucial Carlos–love to see that surfaced here today.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:33 amI found the article easy to follow once I read it a few times?
Michael Kelly09:33 am?
Michael Kelly09:34 amThat’s my research-writing goal Gaby to write articles for both researchers and practitioners that are clear enough to make sense to both audiences on the first read…?Do you have any questions for the group today, Gaby?
Carlos Evans09:35 amYou do a pretty good job Dr. Kelly
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:35 amDr. Kelly, I really enjoy reading your articles!
Michael Kelly09:35 amawww…well the checks are in the mail 🙂
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:35 amQuestion for my group: what kinds of supports have been offered at your school? How is the relationship between staff and parents? Do parents feel welcome?
Laura Montiel09:35 am?
Michael Kelly09:35 amthanks though, that means a lot coming from mighty SSW like yerselves ?
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:36 amIs there space, time, etc? What are some challenges to bringing in parents?
Michael Kelly09:36 amthese are great questions Gaby, let’s try ’em one at a time?
Michael Kelly09:37 amLet’s start with feeling welcome: do you think your parents with special needs kids feel welcome at your school? why or why not?
Laura Montiel09:37 amMost relationships between staff and parents are good but we have a few that are not. All because of behaviors. Like mentioned before that can strain relationships between teachers and parents.
Laura Montiel09:38 amI believe students feel welcome at the schools I work.
Michael Kelly09:38 amhow about your parents Laura?
Laura Montiel09:38 amParents do to but the parent group at one of our school fell apart because there was no funding for it.
Carlos Evans09:38 amMany of the relationships between our parent and teachers go well, where they fall short is when teachers speak from an emotionally frustrated space instead of a composed solution focused position.
Laura Montiel09:39 amWhat the school does is have monthly field trips to the part disctrict and parents are encouraged to participate. This is a way they maintain connected to each other.
Carlos Evans09:40 amI think that our parents feel welcome at our school because of our clerical staff and because we have staff in the building who they are familiar with, especially our parents who have students with exceptional needs
Michael Kelly09:40 am”composed solution focused position” Carlos you’re writing your next article for SSWN with that–would love to have you put that phrase into an article and provide examples of how you do that (I think people would really respond to it)
Carlos Evans09:40 amThanks Dr. Kelly, noted
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:40 amCool Laura, I have thought about parent field trips! Yes, Carlos “solution focus” is so important.
Michael Kelly09:42 amthis parent field trip idea–again, what a cool concept to develop further! Laura, I’m curious too about the funding issue that made the parent group fizzle at your school–how could that get re-started I wonder?
Laura Montiel09:43 amI believe that writing a proposal to our Assistant SuperIntendent of Special Ed would help.
Laura Montiel09:44 amOur staff was working unpaid hours to make this happen. This was for our exceptioanal students.
Michael Kelly09:44 amwho knows, maybe Gaby can be your proposal consultant on writing that up ?
Laura Montiel09:44 amThat would be great!
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:44 amI would love to help. If there is space, it can be done 🙂
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:45 amAnother idea may be writing a grant, which I’ve never done. But I was just thinking about. Maybe for yoga mats or other materials.
Michael Kelly09:45 amGaby, anything else you want to make sure we cover today? This has been a really fantastic and rich chat so far, such practice wisdom here.
Carlos Evans09:46 amGabby you are doing an amazing job, great example of leadership
Laura Montiel09:46 amAbsolutely!
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:46 amThank you 🙂
Laura Montiel09:46 amI’m interested in grant writing.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:47 amI just want to add that I was very intimidated when I first realized that I would be doing a parent group. But I got comfortable over time. I think the important thing is to let the parents lead in what they feel comfortable discussing. Doing a needs assessment helps when thinking about topic ideas.
Michael Kelly09:47 amLaura, I think that could be something we try to explore more here on SSWNetwork and SSWN, maybe to see if we have some expertise from our almost 2,300-strong network (I’m sure there are some excellent grant writers in our network already!)
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:48 amfollowing on the grant writing tips
Carlos Evans09:48 amThanks, would love to see a copy of the ends assessment you uswdusedneeds
Michael Kelly09:48 am”let the parents lead” Gaby the titles of future SSWN articles are really writing themselves today, awesome.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:48 am:)
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:49 amCarlos, I can share the needs assessment checklist that I have.
Carlos Evans09:49 amPerfect
Michael Kelly09:49 amThere’s been so much good stuff shared today, but one thing that I can think we can start to finish up on is a comment you just made Gaby that is so important: that doing this kind of parent support work can be initially intimidating.
Michael Kelly09:50 amBut ultimately, if you work at it, let the parents lead, and assess their needs, it gets easier and can be extremely impactful and rewarding too. That was always my experience with this work.
Carlos Evans09:50 amGreat advice
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:51 amYes, it is really nice to see the parents helping each other out. I wish I could record it!
Michael Kelly09:51 amOne resource I want to make sure I share and put in the Group Chat that we’ll save & share is https://www.schoolbasedfamilycounseling.com/
Laura Montiel09:51 amRecording would be nice.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:51 amThank you for this resource!
Laura Montiel09:52 amThank you for sharing the resource. I am going to take a look at it.
Michael Kelly09:52 amthis is the Oxford Symposium in School-based Family Counseling (SBFC) I’m part of, an international group of researchers & practitioners from 17 countries. Would love your feedback on what you find there and spoiler alert–I’m working closely with my SBFC friends to get a lot of those resources, articles, and (maybe) videos on our sites as well. Stay tuned!
Michael Kelly09:53 amSo Gaby, what do you say, shall we sign off for today?Any final words?
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:54 amThat sounds good. Thank you all for taking the time to be here! I would be glad to talk further to anybody via email or phone about any questions/ideas.
Carlos Evans09:54 am✊?
Michael Kelly09:55 amAwesome–thanks Gaby for leading us, and we’ll be back here again on 2/15 with Jaclyn Williams as our LiveChat host (no LiveChat next week 2/8)! Have a great day everybody–the chat transcript will be up on our site soon as well. Take care.
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:55 amHave a great weekend!
Laura Montiel09:55 amGreat job Gaby!
Gabriela Ibarra Ramirez09:55 amThank u!!