LOS ANGELES, CA (March 27, 2019) – After a military parent with a special needs child approached LA-based nonprofit, Special Needs Network (SNN), about the lack of resources and training available to military families, SNN partnered with Los Angeles Air Force Base to design a program aimed at addressing the significant struggles of special needs families.

“I will never forget being on base applying for services for my son and watching as a military mom with a special needs daughter was turned away,” recalls Lisa Rogers, a special needs parent and civilian contractor at Los Angeles Air Force Base. “The mom left the building sobbing. Her daughter had more severe needs than my son, so I can only imagine how hopeless she felt.”

Rogers is a graduate of SNN’s advocacy program and part of a large network of families in need of support for their families. This is where SNN’s newest program comes in.

The program, known as Military Parent Advocacy Mentor and Navigator Program (MPAMN), will be available to military families enrolled in the Department of Defense Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and will be offered at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, and Naval Base Ventura County.

Made possible through grant funding from California’s Department of Developmental Services, the program will benefit approximately 100 families who have autistic and developmentally disabled children.

“Special Needs Network has years of experience working with this population,” says Areva Martin, the nonprofit’s president and co-founder. “Our mission is to educate parents and give them the tools they need to best support their children.”

“EFMP families face a unique set of circumstances,” continues Martin. “The Department of Defense estimates that military children change schools six to nine times from the start of kindergarten to high school graduation.”

“That type of change can be a challenge for any kid, much less a child with special needs. This change creates an educational gap–a gap that is particularly detrimental to children with special needs. With no safety net in place or central point of contact, this leaves many children underserved and vulnerable.”

SNN plans to use its new funding over the next two years to support to guide families through six intensive sessions consisting of lectures, independent reading and classroom exercises, as well as an 18-hour training program designed to introduce the families to California laws and resources available.

Led by certified trainers, the program will equip enrollees to become advocates for their children. The program will also help families identify other families in need, creating a network of mentors for families with special needs children.

“This is critical in the transient military community, where families often lack traditional support systems such as close-knit family, long-term friendships, and religious institutions,” explains Martin. “As trained parent advocates, they will receive ongoing training and support for effective community organizing and advocacy, ultimately striving for legislative change and policy shifts.”

Martin emphasizes this is a pilot program and with successful outcomes, hopes to replicate it throughout California. She also wants to work with other organizations across the country to help them develop similar programs.

“It is our hope that the outcomes from our program will spur other state and federal grant funding for this vulnerable population,” says Martin.

SNN is known as one of California’s leading developmental disability advocacy organizations and has built a reputation for successfully working with under-represented and disenfranchised families. MPAMN is modeled after SNN’s successful parent advocacy mentor (PAM) program, a program that brings in parents and professionals from across the country. With currently no formal training available to military families, MPAMN will fill that void.

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