The purpose of Support for Families is to ensure that families of children with any kind of disability or special health care need, and the providers who serve them, have the knowledge and support to make informed choices that enrich the child’s development and well-being.  We believe in promoting collaboration between families and professionals because it is through a partnership that we create a community where all children can flourish.

We provide information, education, and support services through our drop-in center, phoneline, workshops, peer groups, and community family events. Families are often trying to access services to address their child’s/youths needs – assessments, child care, respite, education, medical services, therapy, behavior management, mental health, home help, employment and vocational training, financial assistance, future planning; recreation and social opportunities – Support for Families helps families navigate these systems and services.

We guide families in asking the right questions, ensuring they know what their rights and responsibilities are, and empowering them to be their child’s best advocate – and that is so important right now. Families who have children with special needs are more at risk of being negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic, but also the ripple effects of disrupted supports and services.

During San Francisco’s shelter-in-place mandate, children with special needs, and or, medical complexities are more vulnerable to the virus, and they are also more susceptible to the effects of the quarantine. For many children with special needs, distance learning may have more challenges – often, children with disabilities have paraprofessionals that support and guide their learning outcomes as well as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans. Additionally, children/youth with disabilities may need more parental guidance to access virtual technology/learning tools and extra support to understand the immediate and long term interruptions to their environments and community.

There is a heightened awareness of how critical having community connection and support is during this crisis period; relationships are a vital part of our work. Although Support for Families continues to provide information and education related to school closures, assessments, and access to resources, our focus has shifted to addressing the basic fundamental needs of families – emotional support, food, rent, safety, and social connection.

Our support services team is working hard to continue to stay connected to families, and we have been doing additional outreach to ensure families know we are open and available. Like others, we have turned to technology to set up services virtually. As a team, and as a more extensive network, we have worked together to learn how to navigate virtual supports, including various platforms of technology (Zoom, Facebook live, WeChat, WhatsApp) while balancing being responsive to family needs, providing equitable opportunities, and minimizing barriers. Whether it is a phone call to our warmline to feel listened to or joining our Drumming Circle family event, we are working towards creative outlets for caregivers and children to have a moment of fun, a moment to forget the stress, and a moment to laugh together.

Amidst this crisis, systems, organizations, providers, and individuals are all coming together to share resources, and maximize support for all children and families in our community. How our city works together now to meet the urgent needs will impact the future of children and youth. We hope to come out of this stronger together, with a solid foundation for collaboration to ensure children and families have equitable opportunities to thrive in San Francisco.

Volunteer contributors Caitlin McNamara, Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, Support Services Program Director, and Joe Goyos, Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, Education Program Director submitted this commentary. Click to learn more about Support for Families of Children with Disabilities 

To learn more about the First 5 San Francisco Family Resource Center Initiative Click Here.