Special Needs Advocacy Collaborative meets

The women put their bags down, let out some long sighs and say hello to old friends they’ve met through the Special Needs Advocacy Collaborative.

There are representatives from various agencies in Plumas County at this meeting after lunch at the Gem and Mineral Building at the fairgrounds in Quincy on July 17. Most of them have school-aged children, some do not. All have shared experiences with the school district, or with childcare or respite care.

Many of them have the look of mothers who’ve “been there.”  They are tired. Resilient. It’s the look of women who’ve had to advocate and lobby hard for their kids to get their basic needs met.

It’s the last meeting of the year for the group and the agenda is pretty loose — just an accounting of what’s been happening in the county for special needs children and more importantly perhaps, what hasn’t been happening for children with special needs in the county. They try and celebrate the baby steps forward that are being made.

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PUSD for example, is hosting a training for paraprofessionals who work with special needs students. Sometimes those hired as aides in the last couple of decades have little or no experience working with special needs students and it’s not required for new hires to have education in the field. Because of this situation, students needs often go unmet, according to the advocates — or worse — the system can actually be damaging to daily learning.

“Autistic kids need predictability and they need to know what to expect. You throw in an aide at the last minute who doesn’t know what she’s doing; that child shuts down for the day and no learning happens that day,” said one mother, not wanting to give her name.

Another woman who had been a PUSD aide when she first came to Plumas County concurred. She did have the education, but no training was offered to her as an aide. She went in cold. The district also cross trained their aides to go anywhere with any student, but that policy was sometimes to the detriment of special needs students who relied on knowing who was going to be with them.

The advocates were pleased that PUSD was taking action to train people through a course offered online through University of California, Irvine at monthly collaborative meetings on Mondays this year, along with a training through the Diagnostic Center on Aug. 20. The advocates agreed that this marks progress in getting kids needs met.

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The advocates were however displeased that paraprofessional aides are still not part of the conversation for meetings regarding IEPs and 504s considering that they spend more time with students with special needs than anyone else. For special needs parents having the aides at the meetings are a no-brainer — and they vowed to continue to advocate for them to be there.

Respite care for parents and guardians of special needs children was another giant topic of discussion. Care for special needs children is often around the clock and can be exhausting. But respite care workers’ pay in Plumas County is $12 an hour and those positions often go unfilled because of the low wage. Mothers have often been faced with someone they wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving their child with to get that respite. Again, they pointed to the need for training — it’s not just babysitting when it’s special needs oriented.

Plumas Rural Services is currently recruiting new providers and has the job listed on its website. The organization has been reaching out to active and inactive respite consumers and the collaborative group did find that this too was a step in a positive direction.

Lastly, the collaborative discussed the need for parent support groups throughout the county. In the past few years there were Parent Cafes, but the cost of space was often an issue. Parent support groups would require childcare on site so that parents can socialize and get their needs met for support,  which was also an issue. Going forward the group will look into churches, lodges, resource centers — with low rent that can accommodate both parents and children in two separate areas.

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While a date has not been set yet for the first fall meeting, the collaborative discussed things they’d like to see in the future. Long-time coordinator Brenda Lory is moving to Humboldt County, leaving big shoes to fill. Lory was the first to suggest that the group could also work on advocating for their kids to be included in many of the activities afforded children in the county.

Chief among their dreams is to see special needs kids in Plumas County have a place at the table with other kids.

They discussed having a special needs section at the County Fair where kids can take a break with less sound and visual stimulation — or a designated time for them to go to the fair with the bells and whistles turned down a bit to accommodate their needs. A mother mentioned that the Children’s Fair in May does  attempt to do this.

“You just want to see your son be happy and play,” said another mother.

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