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The McCain Campaign and Parent Centers

During last week's speech outlining the future McCain administration's goals for special education, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said that the administration would refocus the special education law so that federally-funded parent centers would work with infants and toddlers:

Once a condition is known, parents need the best and latest information on what to expect and how to respond. This service is also provided for under the IDEA. And we will make sure that every family has a place to go for support and medical guidance. The existing programs and community centers focus on school-age children -- overlooking the need for assistance before school-age.


But it would make a lot more sense for these centers to focus as well on infants and toddlers. This is not only a critical stage for diagnosis; it can also be a crucial time to prepare the family for all that may lie ahead. Families need to know what treatments are most effective, and where they are available, what costs they will face, and where aid can be found, and where they can turn for the advice and support of others in their situation. As Todd and I and Heather know, there's no substitute for the friendship of those who have been where we are now.

However, the parent training and information centers and community parent resource centers, to which Palin is referring, already are mandated by the federal government to work with families of infants and toddlers, and have been at least since 1986.

I mentioned this briefly when I blogged about the speech last week, but I wasn't sure then if Palin was talking about the PTIs and CPRCs, or some other federally-funded parent assistance group that I wasn't aware of. The campaign press release, however, clarifies the campaign's intent:

The Parent Training and Information (PTI) Centers and Community Parent Information Centers (CPRCs) provide needed information and assistance. Unfortunately, to date, their focus has been parents of school age children; the McCain Administration will refocus IDEA so that the Centers must expand to parents with children ages 0-3.

The campaign might want to take a look at this, the portion of IDEA 2004 that describes the work of PTIs, and this, the part of the law that talks about CPRCs.

Both sections of the law show that the organizations are required to serve parents of children from birth to age 26. Both types of centers share the same purpose and the same structure; the only difference is that CPRCs are "designed to meet the specific needs of families who experience significant isolation from available sources of information and support." There's at least one of these organizations in each state. (Click here to find yours)

The special education law's focus on infants and toddlers with disabilities began 1986. That's when President Reagan signed into law a reauthorization of IDEA that required schools to provide early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

Rene Swink, who is in North Carolina but helps provide technical assistance to parent centers in a southern cluster of states, told me that her organization has always provided services to the "full gamut" of children. In fact, parents with children older than 26 are also welcome to call for assistance, she said. They might end up getting referred to another organization that could better meet their needs, "but we always want to help families," she said.

"You can pick up the phone, and we'll do our level best to help," she added.

I have an email inquiry in to the McCain campaign, and I'll add any clarifications/corrections to this blog post if I hear from them.

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