Walking in My Shoes (WIMS) is a “parents helping parents” support group for families with children who have a developmental or physical disability.
I started this group in 2009 shortly after I retired. Having worked in the developmental services field for over 30 years as a front line worker, I frequently saw the isolation many parents experienced and heard the frustration due to lack of support and understanding of what they were going through. Though many had caring extended families and friends, a common phrase I heard was, “they don’t understand as they’re not in my shoes.”
Months prior to the first meeting I wrote a proposal outlining goals and objectives for the group. I then contacted several agencies to discuss the viability of this project. These agencies were supportive and agreed to refer families they served and to be a resource to the group as speakers on various topics.
The first meeting was held in October 2009 with a focus to support parents and provide them with the opportunity to:
- connect with a group of parents who have similar concerns and feelings related to their child’s special needs access information/resources from parents, the facilitator and guest speakers
- share in a supportive and non-judgmental setting develop a support network
- advocate collectively for services/funding plan parent/child/family group activities.
Currently, each meeting consists of discussion and information sharing followed by a social time. Some of the topics discussed have been: effective advocacy, recreation programs, dietary needs, Individual Education Plan (IEP)/Identification Placement Review Committee (IPRC) and options for therapeutic programs in the community. Family issues such as “Care for the Caregiver” and “What About the Siblings” have also been presented.
Besides the monthly meetings, parents receive emails with information on resources, workshops, community activities and queries from other parents. The WIMS website has the meeting schedule, resources and a link for the online forum. This online forum was initiated by a parent to give others access to information and networking opportunities should a group meeting not be possible or comfortable.
This is the 4th year that WIMS has been running with new members joining regularly. Parents of children of all ages and a variety of diagnosis attend which creates opportunities for sharing of advice from those who have ‘‘been there” and for problem solving of various situations.
Here are some thoughts parents have shared about the benefits of the group;
“We share resources and have different expertise and experiences making us a great resource for each other. We understand without saying anything”.
“Having the chance to interact with other parents in similar situations, to share experiences and receive practical help, is of tremendous value”
“We are with others who truly understand. There is a common bond of empathy and shared goals.”
WIMS provides a friendly, supportive and understanding environment where everyone is welcome and all are walking in the same shoes.
Written by Janet Robinson, Facilitator