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Strategic Plan Highlight: Ohio Family Network

The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) cares about the well-being of families with loved ones who have disabilities. DODD is constantly working to improve strategies for supporting families. One of those strategies has been to develop the Ohio Family Network (OFN) and provide funding for network organizations to take on new projects that support families. 

The Family Network includes Milestones Autism Resources, Autism Society of Greater Akron, The Center for Disability Empowerment, Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio (DSACO), and Family Leadership Network. Each of these organizations found creative ways to support families over the past year and share information about Growing Fmaily Resilience, Charting the LifeCourse, and cultivating Families at the Center of a Connected Community. Many of these activities will continue and expand through the next year. 

Each organization in the OFN could easily have their own stories about the positive impact they are having on people with developmental disabilities and their families. The work that they are doing includes promoting self-advocay, making resources accessible for families, and helping families to build community and leadership skills. The following are testimonials of that work. 

Milestones Autism Resources  Milestones Autism Resources has expanded its outreach and resources for the Hispanic community. This included expanding the helpdesk to include Spanish Language assistance. Parents who have used the helpdesk have said, "There was no one to talk to about finding resources in Spanish (until calling Milestones)." The program has had an impact on the providers too. When OFN's manager reached out to existing service providers, many of them said, "Oh! I never thought about how we would serve a family that didn't speak English." One provider, in particular, said that she would make an effort to hire ABA therapists that speak Spanish. Parent training and in-home therapy in Spanish has made a big difference for Milestones families, especially those that have limited transportation and cannot go to center-based therapy. For some families, the Spanish helpdesk was their first opportunity to speak about Autism without an interpreter. Milestones also provided live interpretation for the keynote speakers as the National Autism Conference and featured a self-advocate who did a session in Spanish. 

Autism Society of Greater Akron  The work of Autism Society of Greater Akron brought forth grassroots efforts to build connections with families in the area, including the creation of online social clubs. Members of the social club shared, "I can get to know people in our group because I see them every two weeks. The activities are really fun." Family members shared, "The social club is the one thing that our son looks forward to every other week! He is so excited to be with this group of friends, and he really enjoys the activities and games." Another family member also said, "The girls absolutely enjoy the social club! This group is made up of other adults that function at their level, and I think that is why they are having so much fun! I look forward to the day that they can all meet face-to-face."

The Center for Disability Empowerment  The Center for Disability Empowerment (CDE) targeted efforts to specific populations such as siblings of people with disabilities, youth, families, community members, and more. These sessions all promoted community connections but were unique in their specific audiences. In one interaction, staff at CDE learned of a gentleman who was lonely and severely depressed at Thanksgiving. Incorporating some of the Charting the LifeCourse framework, they were able to help him find his strengths and abilities. He was a very personable gentleman who had a strong handle on technology. By realizing his strengths, he went on to host fun virtual meetings for two weeks during the Christmas and New Year's holidays called, "12 Days of Holiday Cheer." He was empowered and brought joy to others during a time that can be isolating for many people.

DSACO  In the fall of 2020, DSACO launched its Supplemental Learning Initiative. This program was built to provide in-person of virtual tutoring and learning assistance. DSACO pushed this program through various channels in an effort to reach non-English speaking families through DSACO's Latino Outreach coordinator. This resulted in nearly half of the families participating in the program used English as their second language. One of the children participating in the program was al ittle boy named Jonathan. Dulce, Jonathan's mom, gave us this feedback, "Throughout this time Jonathan and Miss Jacalyn have been bonding very well. You can tell the work that both of them have done is noticeable due to the fact that Jonathan is communicating more and more every day! The work that Miss Jacalyn has been doing with Jonathan has been tremendous!"

Family Leadership Network  The Family Leadership Network has been empowering families to lead their own community efforts and has promoted this work through Community Design Sessions, a series to equip families with skill to build healthy communities. "At a time when the world was telling us to lean out, Achsah and her family were determined to continue connecting and felt that a movie night was the perfect way to meet neighbors and do something unique in their community that promoted connecting. The Community Design Sessions provided the family space to brainstorm different aspects of movie night, while also providing them with the space to connect with others who were also thinking about ways to connect and build community. I have seen my son and my family dynamics change. I have seen the desire to want to be outside of the home and the desire to be a part of the world, and that right there is phenomenal." "Hello Neighbor Community Movie Night" was a success and since then, Achsah and her family have continued to take action towards building community and connections, "We have a chapter dedicated to community building that we wouldn't even have if it weren't for the Ohio Family Network."

The Ohio Family Network has worked hard to support families and build community. These efforts have also helped DODD meet strategic plan objectives to support families of people with developmental disabilities. The network will continue in this work into the next fiscal year and is planning to expand to two new regions in Ohio. 

Visit the Ohio Family Network webpage to learn more and join the Family Forum on Facebook to get connected with other families. To access resources for families, visit he Family Section on DODD's website.