(802) 876-5315
Strong Families. Strong Futures.
Happy February, VFN families and friends!

We’ve started off this month with a flurry of activity, including planning for our VFN Annual Conference in April and Disability Awareness Day, and overall strategic planning for Vermont Family Network as we envision our future. We are reaching out to stakeholders this month to get your perspectives on our work and would GREATLY appreciate your feedback. Here are the links to a Family Survey we are conducting with families and a Stakeholder Survey for those with whom we work. Feel free to contact me with your thoughts at pam.mccarthy@vtfn.org. We are excited about the next steps in VFN’s journey, and value your input now more than ever!

We are excited to see family leaders and self-advocates expressing their views on a variety of issues before the Legislature this session, many of whom are graduates of the Vermont Leadership Series, a collaborative effort of the Developmental Disabilities Council, Green Mountain Self Advocates, and VFN. This year, Vermont Family Network continues to advocate for more funding to support the true costs of Children’s Integrated Services and Special Accommodations grants as part of our work with the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance. As members of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, we are focusing on the issues of legal assistance for families with education needs, financial support for family caregivers, increasing housing options for young people transitioning to independence as they become adults, and support for peer initiatives, including peer navigation for families with complex needs. Do you or your family have a compelling story to tell with regard to any of these issues? Your voices matter, especially now! Contact your legislator directly, or talk with us about ways to share your perspective and influence positive change in these challenging times. Together, we can make a difference!

From the heart,
Pam McCarthy, M.Ed.
2021 Annual Conference Registration is Open!
Please join us for our 2021 Annual Conference, held over two days on Thursday, April 8th 9:00-2:30 and Friday, April 9th 9:00-2:30. As we all adapt to life during the pandemic, this year’s event is free of charge and will be held online over Zoom. We hope that this format will allow greater accessibility for our attendees. This year we are featuring two wonderful and inspiring Keynote speakers.

  • On day one, Rachel Callander will join us from Australia to speak about Life, Love and Awesomeness: The Impact and Implications of Language. Rachel will share her story as the mother of Evie, a daughter with complex medical needs, and her years as a patient (and Rachel’s as a parent) in the healthcare system. Rachel unpacks the Health Language Matrix, showing how different communication styles affect patients, parents, and healthcare professionals in their efforts to collaborate.
  • On day two, Karen Gaffney will speak about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. Karen is the President of a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families and across all settings for people with intellectual disabilities. She is a long-distance open water swimmer with some incredible achievements to her name including a 9-mile solo swim across the width of Lake Tahoe and an 8.5-mile swim across Lake Champlain. Karen tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed. Oh, and by the way…. Karen Gaffney has Down syndrome. 
We have a fabulous line-up of 6 workshops on topics including: a special two-hour workshop on using the “Charting the Life Course” tool, Resiliency and Self-care, Transition to Adulthood from both the young adult and parent perspectives, navigating Care Conferences, and Anxiety with our Puppets in Education program! There will also be an opportunity for parents to chat over lunch. For a full schedule visit our VFN website and Register now!

If you would like to become a sponsor for our conference you can do so here.
News from the Puppets!
Our “Kindness” virtual program is now in schools! We have had a great rollout of the new program. Kids danced during the new intro by Mister Chris and Friends, laughed at our Knock Knock jokes, moved like trees during the body break, and had much to say to the puppets. They made LOTS of connections to material they related to, such as: Needing to be clear about what we are feeling because wearing masks makes it harder to communicate; Experiencing unkind behavior; Experiencing kindness; and Getting a new pet during COVID. They identified adults they can talk to, strategies for dealing with unkind behavior, ways to be kind to others, and how to be an “Upstander”.

One grade 1&2 teacher wrote:
“The format was perfect. Puppet show was the perfect length and it was great that students could ask questions and share experiences.”

For more information about our virtual puppet programs, please email karen.sharpwolf@vtfn.org .
Dual Enrollment -
Taking College Classes while in High School
Juniors and seniors in high school who are on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can apply to Dual Enrollment programs. Students can receive vouchers that will cover the cost of tuition for two college classes. Dual Enrollment presents an opportunity for students to increase their self-advocacy and self-directed behavior— transferable skills they will need after high school graduation. Read factors for IEP teams to consider when deciding if Dual Enrollment is right for your child. For information and resources related to transitioning from high school to adulthood, check out VFN’s Transition Toolkit for Youth with Disabilities and our upcoming Dual Enrollment workshop on February 25th.

For any questions related to transition to adulthood for your youth with a disability, please call the VFN helpline at 802-876-5315. 
2021 Upcoming Sibshops
Our virtual Sibshop format is still going strong! For our January Sibshop, “sibs” enjoyed learning about how Ben & Jerry’s makes their ice cream and then developed their own flavor, which we dubbed “Moo Moo Mint Magic,” in the Flavor Lab! Our upcoming Sibshop activities are listed below. SibShops are activities for brothers and sisters (age 6+) of children with special health care needs and disabilities. It provides them with a chance to connect with other children who get what it’s like to be a “sib.” We would love more sibs to join us in 2021! Contact molly.lawney@vtfn.org with questions, or to be added to our Sibshop email distribution list. 

Saturday February 20 – Who Dunnit? 9-10 am: Put on your detective cap and join us on Zoom to solve some silly mysteries! The theme of this Sibshop is forgiveness. We all struggle to do the right thing sometimes; what are some situations where you wanted to be forgiven? What can stand in the way of forgiving someone even when we want to? We will discuss how empathy, or trying to understand another person’s feelings, can help us move past anger and frustration, and toward forgiveness.

Saturday March 20 – Sib Choice! 9-10:00 am: This month, sibs will have a chance to suggest activities and then vote on their favorite option! The theme of this Sibshop will be cooperation. In what ways do you cooperate with your families and sib when it comes to decision making? When do you find it difficult to cooperate and why?
$ Stipend for Virtual Support Parent Training!
Would you like to support other parents who have a child with a disability or special health care need? Could you draw on your own experience to offer empathy, inspiration, and a listening ear in times of need? Our new virtual Support Parent Training is now in full force, with trainings being held every two months. As a token of our appreciation to our VFN volunteers, we are now excited to be able to offer a $50 stipend to all parents who complete the training! This free, three-hour Zoom training offers an opportunity for connection, learning, and self-reflection, all from the comfort of your own home. Our next training opportunities will be:

  • Tuesdays February 16th and 23rd from 6-7:30 pm (both dates required)
  • Saturday April 17th, from 9-noon

If you are interested in this opportunity, please fill out our Support Parent Volunteer Application. After you have completed the application, you will receive an email with the Zoom registration links from our Support Parent Training coordinator, Molly. Upon becoming a trained Support Parent, we can add you to our network of Trained Support Parents for Parent Matching! Even if you have been a Support Parent before, we encourage you to take this training to enhance your support skills. If you cannot make these training dates, please either fill out the application linked above or email molly.lawney@vtfn.org with your interest, so she can let you know when the future training dates will be. 
What if I Disagree with the IEP Team
during the Pandemic?
The right of a parent to disagree during the IEP Process has not been changed or lessened because of the pandemic. The three forms of dispute resolution – administrative complaint, mediation, and due process complaint - are available and virtual sessions can be used to replace in-person meetings, mediation sessions, or hearings. While collaboration and teamwork are the preferable ways to work out disagreements and conflicts, the rights of parents to exercise their legal options to complain have not been suspended by the federal Office of Special Education Programs. 

If you have any questions about your child’s IEP and your rights in the special education process, please call the VFN helpline at 802-876-5315
Contact Us. We Will Listen!
Helping Vermont Families thrive for more than 30 years
Sign up to be trained as a Support Parent!

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Contact our Helpline at (802) 876-5315 or info@vtfn.org
Upcoming Events - Register today!
February 25 from 10-11:00 am – “Increasing Access, Opportunity, and Equity for All Learners: A Community-Based Approach to Dual Enrollment”
Join us to learn about:
  • the Dual Enrollment Program and its purpose and connection to student-centered learning;
  • participation rates of student groups in Dual Enrollment;
  • State strategies for increasing participation rates of students with disabilities; and
  • how stakeholders can be partners in improving participation rates.
Presenter: Jess DeCarolis, VT Agency of Education – Student Pathways, Division Director. Register here.
March 4 from 10-11:00 am – “Supported Decision Making”
Join us to learn more about Supported Decision Making which is an alternative to guardianship. Through this process, a person with a disability makes their own decisions by using support networks to help understand the issues & their choices, asking questions in a language they understand, & communicating their own decisions to others. We will provide a general overview of Supported Decision Making and share the practices and procedures that are currently being used in Vermont.
Presenters: Cammie Naylor, MSW, Esq., Staff Attorney with Vermont Legal Aid and Jamie Rainville, VFN Co-Director Family Support Health. Register here.

April 8 and 9 from 9am-2:30pm each day - "VFN 2021 Annual Conference"
Please join us for our 2021 Annual Conference! As we all adapt to life during the pandemic, this year’s event is free of charge and will be held over two days online over Zoom. For a full schedule, visit our VFN website and Register now!

We save workshops on our website and YouTube channel.
(802) 876-5315 / 1-800-800-4005
600 Blair Park Rd, Ste 240,
Williston, VT 05495