Caitlin Lister was excited recently to learn of a resource available to Okeechobee families with children with disabilities...
OKEECHOBEE — Local social worker Caitlin Lister was excited recently to learn of a resource available to Okeechobee families with children with disabilities — physical, mental health or emotional.
Family Network on Disabilities (FND) is headquartered in Clearwater but serves clients in Okeechobee County as well. PEN (Parent Education Network) program director Ally Walford serves 21 counties in Florida including Okeechobee. “She is extraordinary,” said Lister. “She helps so many with IEPs and 504s.”
In Okeechobee County, many struggle to get the needs of their children met said Lister. One mother said her son could not walk for a year and a half after he contracted Covid-19. He was unable to get services in the public schools and his mother ended up enrolling him in a small private school instead. “It was impossible,” she said. “They shamed us the entire time. It was just miserable.”
Lister met Walford at the Okeechobee County Health and Safety Expo. FNP helps navigate the system, said Lister. “They know the laws. They know their rights, and it is completely free for parents.”
At the expo, Walford distributed information about getting ready for the IEP, the resources available to families, early intervention, etc.
“She will actually even go to IEP meetings with you in Zoom or in person to help you advocate for your child,” said Lister. “She can give you all the information you need about state statutes and things you need so you aren’t going in blind.”
FNP and PEN can help with any child who needs extra help in school. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
For more information, go online to the website Program Detail Page – PEN - Family Network on Disabilities (fndusa.org) or call 800-825-5736.