By: Barry Marshall
Editor, RainbowVisions Magazine
For over 20 years, Rainbow has been providing therapeutic support to children in its pediatric program. Through therapy, counseling and activities, Rainbow works to set children up for success in their adult lives.
One important aspect of this is supporting them while going to school. As individuals with brain injuries, the kids need extra support and understanding to be successful in school.
Sue Finney, divisional director at Rainbow’s Oakland Treatment Center, and Sheryl Carpenter at the Genesee Treatment Center, both work as school liaisons and child advocates for our pediatric clients attending school.
Working with Educators
One of the first orders of business when a pediatric client enters a school is to educate the school staff on traumatic brain injuries. This includes teachers, para professionals and the school’s special education division.
“It’s important to open the lines of communication with all teachers,” said Sheryl. “I get their email addresses so I can get updated information on attendance, test dates, missing assignments and any behavioral issues that may be going on.”
Sheryl also tries to get an extra set of textbooks so if the child forgets their books, they can still work on homework while at the treatment center.
Sue and Sheryl work with the school’s occupational and physical therapists as well as the speech pathologists to update them on the goals for the child and provide them with any medical information they need to know.
Because students may exhibit maladaptive behaviors, school liasons will make sure that successful behavior plans are shared with the school team. A therapist can go into the school to assist and educate teachers how to safely handle the behavior.
Establishing a Plan
Typically, an Individual Education Plan or IEP is developed that outlines the educational goals and accommodations made for the student. Few families have insight into this process. Sue and Sheryl are there to support families during the process and explain the rights of the child under the state of Michigan Educational Laws.
Sue points out that Rainbow pediatric residential clients and those receiving tutoring support have educational goals listed in their plans of care.
School liaisons attend all IEP meetings to ensure the appropriate accommodations are listed and enforced. They also ensure that the correct plan is written, be it an IEP or accommodations based on the 504 plan.
It’s also important that the student receive appropriate technology, like an iPad or other communication device that can help set them up for success. Sue and Sheryl assist with acquiring the technology to ensure the client is able to effectively use it, and that if needed, others around them can support it from a technological perspective.
Collaboration with Families
An integral part of the school liaison role involves spending time with families. Their work assisting families with the IEP process is an important part of what they do, but it is not all they do. Sue and Sheryl also educate families on an ongoing basis regarding brain injury education, providing information about the school, assisting them with access to homework hotlines (so that families are alerted about tests or quiz dates), and just being an all-around resource.
Communication is important in the whole process and Rainbow’s school liaisons find themselves central to all interested parties, including insurance companies, physiatrists, and external case managers.
Children living with brain injuries have needs both in and out of school, and Sue and Sheryl work diligently to help them succeed!