Something exciting is unfolding in Sydney’s Inner West at an Early Intervention (EI) service provider, Plumtree. Over the past few years, a dedicated team of professionals and parents has been incubating a revolutionary peer-led program targeted at parents and carers of young children with disabilities and developmental delays. The program, called Now and Next, has evolved to offer families a strengths-based lens through which they can view their child’s disability, undermining the traditional deficit-driven grief mindset that so often defines families’ experiences during the early years surrounding diagnosis. Now and Next teaches families how to be leaders, how to be active partners in their relationships with professionals, and – most importantly – how to engage creatively in dreaming for their disabled child and for themselves through visioning, goal setting, and practical implementation skills.
Perhaps what is most exciting about Now and Next, however, is that it is the first totally ‘by families, for families’ program of its kind to be offered in Australia and worldwide. Not only do families actively lead the program as peer facilitators, but it is these peer facilitators who shape the future direction of the course, incorporating participant feedback to help the program to evolve to be the best possible conduit for supporting and upskilling families. The peer facilitators are the drivers of Now and Next, bringing their own unique experiences, passions and knowledge, and sharing these with the family participants. Importantly, those participants have an equally active voice in the program: as parents take leadership roles by sharing their own unique expertise, and by accepting the advice and wisdom of their peers, they build both self-efficacy and capacity.
After parents ‘graduate’ from Now and Next (an innovative peer-led goal-setting and visioning course run for parents and carers of young people with disabilities and developmental delay, on which read more here), they become part of the program’s alumni network (fondly called NANA, the Now and Next Alumni). NANA helps to consolidate those relationships formed during the face-to-face program and facilitates a continued, and continual, knowledge exchange between parents to support them to be leaders for their children and in their communities.
Undoubtedly, there is a social aspect to NANA: the network’s closed Facebook group allows parents to ‘check in’ with each other, to share their achievements, and to exchange stories of success and struggle. But there is a weighty side to this Facebook presence. Here, members have a safe and respectful forum in which to ask for advice, seek advocacy help, exchange NDIS tips, and share and promote any relevant groups, events and resources of interest. Here, parents can attend to their own self-care and well-being, as well as to that of their family and children. The NANA Facebook group connects parents with empathetic and experienced peers who support and grow each other’s leadership.