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County bolsters support for families with children with intellectual/developmental disabilities

SAN JOSE – Families of children and young people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities across Santa Clara County will have access a free program offering weekly group therapy sessions. Proposed by County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors provided a one-time matching grant to Parents Helping Parents (PHP) to provide mental health services for families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The County’s support enables PHP to continue offering a vital mental health program created at the peak of the pandemic in March 2020 to support families raising children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities — free of charge.

“Families of children and young people with disabilities are sometimes overlooked in the public health arena,” said Simitian. “What Parents Helping Parents brings to the table is a safe place where local families can have a conversation, without the fear of stigma, and get the resources they need. The PHP mental health program offers parents the help they need to help themselves so they can better advocate for their child, and ultimately help their families thrive.”

PHP’s mental health program allows parents to connect with other parents of children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities while learning self-care strategies to better cope with the stresses of raising a child with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Licensed marriage family therapists lead two-hour group Zoom sessions in both English and Spanish over the course of eight weeks. These sessions typically draw four to eight parents per session, and are expected to support more than 200 families across the County in the next year. PHP received initial financial support from Blue Shield and the Valle Monte League, and later El Camino Health. El Camino awarded PHP another grant this year, effectively doubling the County's investment. 

“Parenting, even in the best of circumstances, is marked by a multitude of responsibilities and pressures. Add to it the additional cares and concerns that come with having a child or children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and the task can feel downright overwhelming,” said Mark Fishler, Development Director for PHP. “The County’s gracious support will allow us to continue providing normally expensive mental health support services for free for parents unable to pay for expensive therapy.”

PHP has been serving families of children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities since 1976. In addition to its mental health program, the organization offers a range of programs and services to help children and adults with disabilities receive the support and services they need to reach their full potential, including Connections California, a program to assist with the transition to adulthood, parent education and training, and an Early Start program for parents of children with development delays.

By providing information, training, and resources, the organization strives to help build strong families and improve systems of care across the County. Seventy-eight percent of PHP’s clients are non-white, while 60% speak a language other than English, and 60% live in economically disadvantaged areas. A majority of the PHP staff have or are raising a child with a disability, making them uniquely qualified to help families with similar backgrounds.

A parent, who preferred to remain anonymous, shared their experience: “I have searched high and low, far and wide, since my son was diagnosed with autism 23 years ago, for a support group and resources to help me and my family navigate our ‘special needs’ journey. In all those years, my current experience with PHP's 'Support for Caregivers' series of therapist-guided support groups has hands-down been the most valuable and positively impactful. Thank you for providing a means for us to see that we are in fact not alone, and that there are truly those who are trying to assist us to find and maintain the rays of hope we desperately need to keep moving forward in our, at times, brutal journeys."

Another parent shared: “Groups like this one are so beneficial. Today, I was thinking about what we’ve been going over, and thought about how when something really bad happens to you, there is probably someone out there who is going through something that would jump in and switch places with you in a heartbeat. It really helps to put things in perspective.”