Haring Center

11. Family Support

Haring Center researchers and educators have worked to support the entire family of a child with a disability for decades. Just as each child with a disability requires individualized support to achieve their best possible outcomes, a child’s family also needs support to access the resources and support necessary for that family to thrive.

Sibshop logo

For example, for most children with a disability, the relationships they develop with their siblings will be the most meaningful and longest lasting connections in their life. There can also be unique experiences, challenges, and rewards that come along with being the sibling of a child with a disability. With that in mind, Haring Center researcher Don Meyer began a program called the Sibling Support Project in 1990.

One of the most well-known activities of the project has been the SibShop program, which is a platform for siblings of children with disabilities to connect with other siblings and have a safe place to share their experiences and address the challenges and rewards that can come along with being a sibling. More than 350 SibShop programs are currently available throughout the United States and more than 10 countries in six continents around the world.

During the same era, Haring Center researcher Greg Schell recognized that, while fathers of children with disabilities play a critical role in their childrens’ development and family functioning, there were few resources to provide fathers with the tools they needed to parent with confidence. In response, Schell began the Father’s Support Network in 1986 to support fathers of children with special needs, providing them with information, resources, and connections they need to be effective dads. This network has grown to include several chapters throughout Washington state and the surrounding areas including Idaho, Oregon and Canada.

Most recently, Applied Research Unit Assistant Director Dr. Jennifer Fung has conducted research to explore how to best support families of young children who have just been diagnosed with a disability or delay. The strategies and supports identified through this research have been put directly into place at the Experimental Education Unit (EEU). Since 2012, the Family Support Program has provided EEU families with the necessary resources to meet their individual needs and help all families parent with confidence, regardless of where they are on their ‘journey’. This could be in the form of connecting a new family with a ‘veteran’ EEU family who can provide guidance and advice, helping a family locate additional intervention or therapy services, or providing additional food through the weekend food program. A critical service the Family Support Program provides is transition both into and out of the EEU to help families make a significant change in their lives easier.

Due to work in this area by Haring Center researchers, support groups for each member of a family have been increasingly popular. As recently as a few decades ago, “parent support” was a euphemism for “mom,” but that has changed. Our innovators at the Haring Center have shined a spotlight to help others recognize that family support should be provided for all family members and caregivers who will have a significant impact on a child’s life.