Dear VFN family and friends,

Hard to believe we are finishing our 4th week of working remotely. We miss seeing you all in person, and hope that you and your families are well. For a quick update on how we are continuing to serve families, please watch my short video message.

On April 10, Governor Scott extended Vermont’s State of Emergency through May 15. How is it for you and your loved ones, staying home and staying safe? All of us at VFN miss the day-to-day interactions with our colleagues, our community and state partners and families whom we serve. That said, we are making the most of our time with family. At our home in St. Albans, my youngest son and I are doing all we can to keep his dad and my dad from going out into public, as they are both at high risk for the coronavirus. We are all spending LOTS of time together, and connecting with family and friends we cannot see right now through ZOOM, Google hangouts, phone, etc.  I’ve learned so much about technology recently, despite occasional glitches and frustration! We are lucky to have our phones and computers as VFN continues to work through the Covid-19 crisis, and are more committed than ever to ensuring that families have better access to broadband  throughout Vermont, going forward.

So, we’d love to know what’s working for your family as we move into our second month of physical distancing. What are your biggest challenges? We’re here to listen. We are willing to lend a caring, experienced ear if you just need someone to hear you out, and we can also share some helpful ideas to get you through these trying times. As a statewide family-to-family support organization, we are here for you.

Parents have reached out to us with questions and concerns about their child’s learning at home. As you know, on March 26, Governor Scott directed schools to close and supervisory unions and districts to transition to “Continuity of Learning (CoL)” by April 13 for the remainder of the school year. “Continuity of Learning” means school districts will be required to provide education services and related supports to all students remotely so that student learning and academic progress are achieved during this time. CoL applies to all students including those who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan. Please take a look at our FAQs and don’t hesitate to call us with questions. These changes are complicated and there are so many different guidance documents that it can feel overwhelming. We know that learning at home will look very different from learning at school and more importantly, that each family is unique and will find what works best for them.

In addition to learning at home, the pandemic has also created financial challenges. Parents of children with special health needs/disabilities joined together with allies to advocate for program/system changes to help lessen the financial hardship brought about by the pandemic while still keeping their families safe. Through this strong and vocal group effort, temporary changes in the Children’s Personal Care Services Program were recently announced. We were pleased to host a Town Hall meeting on April 10 to review these changes and want to thank our partners at the Vermont Department of Health’s Children with Special Health Needs for being so responsive to family concerns.

In other good news, the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) has announced temporary financial relief for some families supporting a child or adult at home who receives Home and Community Based Supports (HCBS); Emergency Relief Options for Parents. Working with family leaders, DAIL, and the Developmental Disabilities Council, VFN will host a Town Hall meeting about this on Tuesday, April 21, from 2-3. Contact Jamie Rainville or Kirsten Murphy for details. Parent and advocate Tammy Carroll has created a private Facebook group, State of Emergency Order for Caregivers, for parents who want to join this advocacy movement.

While much has changed during the pandemic, the Youth Advocacy Council, with contributing partners including Vermont Family Network, is pleased to announce a “virtual” Youth Summit on May 28! The Council is a group comprised of youth and young adults who educate and empower individuals with differing abilities. The keynote speaker is Hasan Davis, who travels the world sharing his inspiring story of transformation, hoping to inspire other “hope dealers” in their selfless service to others. Stay tuned for more details to come!

As always, we are here to listen and help you with any questions or concerns you have about you or your child’s health, education, or well-being. Please contact us any time at [email protected] or (802) 876-5315. We look forward to talking with you by phone or videoconferencing. We believe that the required physical distancing right now should not mean social isolation!

Sending you all our very best during these incredibly tumultuous times. Let us know how we can help you. Together, we are Vermont Strong.

From the heart,

Pam McCarthy, M.Ed.