In 2010, we embarked on a journey to provide a free training program to equip parents, caretakers, and professionals with the necessary tools to become more effective advocates for children with special needs and better mentors to other parents. Now, almost three years later, this program – titled the Parent Advocacy Mentor Program, or PAM – has grown from just 20 participants in its inaugural cycle to over 100 in the most recent one. Cycle 9 of PAM is set to begin this Saturday, January 12.
With 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys) being diagnosed with autism, parents across Los Angeles clamored for a solution to help them navigate the fragmented system of care for individuals with developmental disabilities. SNN responded to the call, and the Parent Advocacy Mentor Program was born. Initially structured as a six week, 18-hour program that held classes every other Saturday, PAM has since grown to span eight weeks and offer participants 25 hours of intensive training. Over 300 advocates have graduated from the program to date.
Many underserved communities are beset with delays in diagnosis that average two to four years, on top of having limited access to vital services. PAM seeks to address these issues in the community by teaching participants skills for effective grassroots campaign organizing. “It’s about leveling the playing field for all families,” said Areva Martin, Esq., who founded SNN in 2005 after her son, Mary, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.
“PAM is an innovative program that was long overdue for a neglected community,” said California State Assemblymember and Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus Holly J. Mitchell (D-54). Assemblymember Mitchell is among the many state and national elected officials and community leaders who have lauded SNN and our programs, including US Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswomen Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, and Diane Watson (Ret.), CA Senators Curren D. Price, Jr., Ted Lieu, and Carol Liu, and LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Following our mission to raise public awareness of developmental disabilities to impact public policy while providing education and resources to families, children and adults, SNN has become a haven for those interested in becoming advocates. In particular, the PAM curriculum is geared towards providing parents with tools that align with our four resolutions: 1) reduce the waiting period for families to have their children diagnosed, 2) bring education, resources, and services directly to the community, 3) provide unique learning opportunities for children and young adults with developmental disabilities, and 4) forge an action-based coalition of families able to advocate for each other and themselves at all levels of government.
The three-hour-long sessions cover a range of topics designed to empower future advocates, including public speaking, identification of early warning signs of developmental disorders, understanding assessment results, counseling parents through stages of grief, participating and advocating for children at IEP and regional centers, mentoring other parents, policy advocacy, and much more.
Free professional childcare services are provided during each class, as well as breakfast, coffee, snacks, and all reading materials.
Upon completion of the program, each graduate is presented an advocacy certification and encouraged to exercise their newly acquired knowledge via induction into the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), an essential part of keeping the SNN mission in motion.
PAM graduates, in conjunction with PAC members, are instrumental in pushing our legislative advocacy campaigns forward. These campaigns include Equality for Our Kids, a grassroots initiative to correct injustices in the allocation of state funding for autism services to African American and Latino children in California by the regional center system; and Stepping Stones, a campaign to close the identification gap for minority kids by mandating training for childcare providers.
In April, we will host a reunion of all PAM graduates at the 7th Annual Tools for Transformation Conference, the biggest FREE autism and developmental disabilities conference in California. The reunion will include a Master’s Class on grassroots advocacy and provide graduates an opportunity to share experiences, collaborate on existing campaigns, and connect with key policy leaders and elected officials working on behalf of children with developmental disabilities and their families.
The reunion will also see the launching of the SNN parent to parent online community, designed as a space for parents of children with special needs to provide support to each other and share resources. It is slated to debut on the first day of the conference.
These days, PAM graduates continue to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on healthcare and the service delivery model for the developmental disabled in L.A. County, proving to the world that parents who care can truly change communities.
To learn more about the Parent Advocacy Mentor Program (PAM) or sign up for the next cycle, please email PAM@specialneedsnetwork.org or call 213-389-7100.