(802) 876-5315
Strong Families. Strong Futures.
Greetings, VFN family and friends!

It’s September, and we are incredibly busy supporting families as their students head back to school in these uncertain times of the COVID Delta variant. We continue to advocate for universal masking in schools as the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will likely be a few months yet before children under twelve years of age can be vaccinated against COVID-19, schools are seeing more cases of COVID, and flu season is beginning, as well. With support from the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council and the University of Vermont Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, we are working with a number of health and education partners to do COVID vaccine outreach for young people with disabilities, including the development of sensory-friendly vaccination options, now, and for the future.

We are gearing up to again support students with our Puppets in Education’s Anxiety and Worry and Kindness programs, which will be virtual at least through December. There is a high demand for these offerings, and we have hired an additional puppeteer to help us meet schools’ requests. We are receiving many calls on our Helpline for support for families whose children and youth are experiencing mental health challenges and are working to enhance our capacity in Family Support to meet the growing needs, including continuing to partner with the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health) also located here at 600 Blair Park. We are hopeful the state Departments of Mental Health and Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) will commit some of their federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to peer-to-peer supports in Vermont, especially now when there are significant workforce challenges, and individuals and families are struggling to get timely, experienced support and avoid crisis.

We will soon be releasing our FY21 Annual Report and look forward to sharing all the incredible work that’s happened over this very unusual year. The resilience of our staff, Board, and families we serve has been inspiring, and I am excited to be sharing VFN’s 2020-2021 stories, data, and photos with you in the next few weeks!

From the heart,
Pam McCarthy, M.Ed.
Act Now!
Quick Survey. New Program. Big Impact!
Take action RIGHT NOW to support children with disabilities and special health needs!

As we anticipate the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 12, we’re developing a new and exciting program to help ease the stress often experienced by children with disabilities and special health needs when going to the doctor’s office for a vaccination. 

VFN is working in partnership with the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, the University of Vermont’s Children’s Hospital and the UVM Center on Disability Community Inclusion to develop a new program that will provide sensory support to children getting the COVID-19 vaccination by distributing sensory objects to practices for patient support, creating a safer sensory experience during the vaccination visit, offering a social story to families in advance of vaccination visit and providing training to participating pediatric and family practices.

Take this 5 MINUTE survey TODAY to help inform the development of this new and exciting program. It’s anonymous and will directly inform the development of the program. 
Administrative Complaint
Pandemic Considerations
While the goal of Vermont schools is to maintain full in-person instruction through the 2021-2022 school year, some students have experienced disruptions caused by quarantine closures. If you believe that your child, on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) needs compensatory services because they have failed to make educational progress during these disruptions, or if you believe that the school district has failed to provide your child with a timely special education evaluation, you may decide to file an administrative complaint. You have one year from the time which the problem occurred to file a complaint. Vermont Legal Aid has developed two templates to assist parents with filing administrative complaints:

The Administrative Complaint Template for Compensatory Services is to be used if you feel your child is in need of compensatory services to make up educational services and support that they did not receive.

The Administrative Complaint Template for Special Education Evaluation Delay is to be used if you feel your child was not evaluated for special education in a timely fashion. Please note that initial special education evaluations must be completed within 60 calendar days of when parent’s written consent is received by the school district. School breaks, including summer vacation, cannot be used as an acceptable reason under Vermont’s delay in evaluation rule unless the school can document that the child was not available for the evaluation.

If you have questions about whether or how to file an administrative complaint, please call VFN Family Support Consultants at 802-876-5315.
News from the Puppets!
We are celebrating our 40th year!

Teachers, administrators, and students: YOU ARE OUR HEROES! PiE is here to support you by complementing the amazing job you are doing in this ever-changing landscape.  
Our program offerings for Fall 2021: 
PiE’s focus this year is once again Mental Health. This school year, conversations about worry and anxiety are more important than ever. Imagine all the things YOUR students want to say about worry. The puppets lead a fun, important, and meaningful conversation that both augments the mental health work you are doing and kicks the conversation off for the rest of the school year.  
For the fall semester, we will be offering virtual programs only, although we hope to offer in-person programs starting in January 2022.  
Great news about funding! Your school likely received American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP-ESSER) funding. The Vermont Department of Mental Health has endorsed our Children’s Mental Health Programs, so we meet the Local Educational Agency (LEA) “Uses of Funds” requirement. For those who cannot access ARP-ESSER funding, we also have support from several organizations, businesses, and agencies to supplement the cost of programming. Please contact us with any questions. 
Our website also has information for scheduling a presentation, the logistics, cost, and potential funding options. To schedule a program, please fill out this form, or email karen.sharpwolf@vtfn.org
Work After High School for
Students on IEPs and Section 504 plans
High school students who are receiving special education services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or support through a Section 504 plan are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services. VR Transition Counselors can provide services such as job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on postsecondary education at institutions of higher education, workplace readiness training, and instruction in self-advocacy. For information and resources related to transitioning to adulthood, check out VFN’s Transition Toolkit for Youth with Disabilities.

For more information on how VR services may fit into your high school child’s IEP or Section 504 or any other transition-related concern, please call the VFN helpline at 802-876-5315. 
NEW Virtual Support Training -
Down Syndrome Cohort
Are you a parent to a child or adult who has a diagnosis of Down syndrome? Would you like to support other parents, including new and expectant parents? Please consider joining our Down syndrome Support Parent Training Cohort! 

This two-part training will take place on Saturday October 2nd and Saturday October 16th, both from 9:00 - noon. In Part 1 of the training, Parent-to-Parent VT Coordinator, Molly Lawney, will describe the Parent Match program and processes, active listening and communication skills, and what is expected of the Support Parent Role. In Part 2 of the training, VFN Family Faculty Coordinator and parent to a child with Down syndrome, Jenny Norris, will provide information specific to Down syndrome and focus on how to support new and expectant parents. 
If you are interested in drawing on your own experience and would like to learn best practices for offering empathy and hope as well as have the opportunity to connect with peers, please fill out our Support Parent Application and register for the trainings on Zoom. If you have questions, email molly.lawney@vtfn.org
NEW Sibshop Schedule for 2021-22
Calling all “sibs”! Sibshops are for the brothers and sisters (age 6+) of children with special needs or disabilities. We have some very fun activities planned for this year, beginning with a couple outdoor activities and then continuing indoors if COVID allows. We do have a virtual backup plan for future Sibshops if it becomes necessary. This Saturday the 18th, we’re off to Shelburne Farms to meet some cute farm animals, followed by exploring a corn maze in Williston on October 16th. Masks are required to protect some of our vulnerable families. For a full list of upcoming Sibshop activities, see our Sibshops Activities Descriptions. You can also “meet” this year’s Sibshop facilitators here, and register your child for Sibshops here. We look forward to meeting your kiddos
Welcome Our Newest Board Members!
At VFN’s Annual Meeting in June, our Board of Directors elected six new members, bringing our Board roster to fifteen. We have a strong majority of Board members with lived experience as parents of children with disabilities or special health needs, as is our mandate as Vermont’s federally designated Parent Training and Information Center and Family to Family Health Information Center.

On September 9th, Beth Quarles, Rohit Adhikari, June Brink, Stephanie Calves, Monica Hutt, and Dr. Heather Link attended their first meeting of fiscal year 2022. We are excited to have their diverse skills and experiences complementing those of our continuing Board of Directors, Ellen Zeman and Craig Giles, Co-Chairs, Tom Stretton, Treasurer, Ellen LaPlante, Secretary, Lanie Kanat, Mary K Dennison, Mara Krause Donohue, Kevin Kelleher, and Mariah Riggs. VFN is grateful to these wonderful volunteers for their time, energy, and dedicated support of our mission.
Upcoming Events - Register today!

Save the Date for our 2022 Annual Conference - April 14, 2022
We are excited to announce that we will be bringing Pete Wright from Wrightslaw to present on special education law and advocacy for a full day! We plan to hold an in-person conference at the Delta Hotel in Burlington and registration will be coming out early this fall.

Free Workshops

September 24 from 1:00 - 2:00 pm - "Back to School: Time to Understand COVID and “Comp Ed” (compensatory education services)"
In this workshop, Rachel Seelig, Staff Attorney at the Disability Law Project, Vermont Legal Aid, will explain parent’s rights and federal and state guidance to make up for the impact of COVID-19 on whether your student received a Free Appropriate Public Education last year. We will talk about requesting an IEP meeting, understanding how to evaluate progress to know if your child should have “Comp Ed”, what “Comp Ed” is, and how to file an Administrative Complaint if you feel your student needs more to make up for last year. Register here.

September 30 from 1:00 - 2:00 pm - "SSI, SSDI and Medicaid: What You Need to Know to Help Your Child Get and Keep Disability-Based Benefits"
Mark Hengstler and Barb Prine work at Legal Services Vermont and its sister organization, Vermont Legal Aid, helping people who have low incomes or disabilities navigate benefits programs. They will discuss:
  • What is SSI and SSDI?
  • Who is eligible and how do you apply?
  • How are these programs related to Medicaid?
  • What are the work incentives that allow people with disabilities to work and not lose benefits?
  • Can people on SSI who lose their jobs get Unemployment Compensation? Register here.

October 13 from 6:30-7:30 pm - "Understanding Special Needs Trusts and How to Fund Them"
In this workshop, Glenn Jarrett, Esq., Certified Elder Law Attorney at Jarrett & Luitjens and Jan Knutsen, Financial Representative from Grace Financial Strategies will give a detailed overview and discuss considerations related to Special Needs Trusts including eligibility for SSI/Medicaid, types of trusts available, ABLE accounts and ways that you can fund these so that you can better plan for your child’s future. Register here.

Our Online Summer Genetics Series is available
If you are curious about genetics, have a child with a genetic condition or are expecting a child that has been prenatally diagnosed with a genetic condition, then this series is for you. Check out this amazing lineup of recorded workshops:
  • The Mystery in Our Genes: Why We Are Who We Are
  • VT Resources When Navigating the Confusing World of Genetics
  • Newborn Screening and the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program: What Families Need to Know
  • Back To School Tips for Children with Special Health Needs/Disabilities
For full descriptions and links to these recordings visit our VFN Genetics Summer Series page.

In case you missed our last series of workshops, you can find a full list on our VFN website. Stay tuned as we add more workshops to our fall schedule!

We save workshops on our website and YouTube channel.
Contact Us. We Will Listen!
Helping Vermont Families thrive for more than 30 years
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Contact our Helpline at (802) 876-5315 or info@vtfn.org

(802) 876-5315 / 1-800-800-4005
600 Blair Park Rd, Ste 240,
Williston, VT 05495