(February 20, 2019) Catherine Read interviews Kelly Henderson and Dee Robinson-Rutkowski of Formed Families Forward (FFF). Their organization is dedicated to supporting foster, kinship and adoptive families of children and youth with disabilities and special needs. They serve families, educators and child welfare professionals in the Northern Virginia area.
Formed Families Forward is a non-profit supported through a federal grant, established to assist adoptive and foster families navigate the complicated world of acquiring services to support children with special needs. Studies show that youth in foster and kinship care are at a higher risk of having disabilities, and therefore requiring special education services. In addition to medical needs, many of these children have suffered emotional trauma from being in an unstable environment, and need extra support to recover and become healthy and whole.
Dee came to Formed Families Forward after she and her husband adopted their two sons through the foster care system. They faced many challenges and had some very rocky years, especially during middle school. She became connected to FFF after meeting Kelly through her Middle School PTA. Dee is thankful to have had someone to help her navigate the system so that they could access the much needed resources to help her sons. It helped to ease their burden, and put her boys and their family on a path to wellness.
In addition to connecting families with the resources that they need, FFF also runs support groups for both students and parents. These groups are very important because families can connect with one another, and understand that they are not alone. FFF also conducts one on one consultations, so individual families can make sure that they understand how to find the support and resources that they need for their children, and get what their children need to thrive at school and at home.
As the organization evolves, Kelly and Dee note that they are working on different initiatives to meet their clients’ needs. They are just finishing up the production of a webinar focused on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the impacts and effects that this has on children as they age. They also have programming focused on ADD and ADHD, which is one of the most common diagnoses that children in foster and adoptive care face. In addition to helping families understand how to establish classroom accommodations, there are many things that parents can do with children at home to help manage symptoms.
In addition, there is a growing movement recognizing how trauma can affect children, and have an impact on their ability to learn and fully participate in the classroom. Trauma Informed Community Networks are being established in Fairfax County for the first time. These networks are designed to help educators and service providers better understand the obstacles and challenges faced by students who have suffered from traumatic events at a young age, and help coordinate efforts in supporting these children.
Formed Families Forward is sponsoring their annual event on April 27th called Spring Forward Family Fun Day, which will be held on the Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University in Manassas. This year’s theme is Navigating Systems to Build Stronger Families. While parents, educators and caregivers enjoy presentations by experts on education and support of foster, adoptive and kinship families, children ages 4 and above will be able to access experiential learning at GMU’s outdoor learning program called “The EDGE”. More details about the day, along with information about how to purchase tickets, can be found on their website