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 Family Leadership Development: A State Snapshot

There are some really interesting programs and initiatives around family engagement and leadership development happening across the country. We invite you to take a closer look at a few of those here!

Colorado – Colorado Approach to Family Engagement

By Eileen Forlenza
Director, Family Leadership Initiative, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Unit

It was a single dad in a rural community on the eastern plains of Colorado that anchored my vision for developing a network of family leaders statewide. His son was a tenacious six year old with Cerebral Palsy, and their father-son bond was strong and inspiring. Raising his young son alone, this dad was dedicated to absorbing all he needed to learn about the system of services. He asked insightful questions, while offering brilliant solutions. He was courageous, smart, resourceful, committed – and he felt isolated. I left that meeting thinking that if only I could harness the wisdom and perseverance of hundreds of families and braid it with core leadership competencies, our state would indeed have an authentic strategy related to quality improvement through family engagement.

Eight years later, the vision has materialized as the Colorado Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Initiative. The cornerstone of the FACE Initiative is our Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI), a 20-session leadership course offered in seven local communities statewide. Through a partnership with the Connecticut Parent Leadership Training Institute, this curriculum is based on proven adult learning methodology, is grounded in diversity and is relevant across several MCH priority areas.

Colorado currently has more than 400 graduates of the program, and each graduate has completed more than 120 hours of class time and has demonstrated their leadership skills through completion of a personal leadership project. For more information please visit us at or contact me at Eileen.

Indiana – New Online Training Resource Helps Families Develop Leadership Skills

By Rylin Rodgers
Family Leadership Coordinator, Riley Child Development Center

Building Family Leaders, a new Web-based training portal, will empower families to lead, advocate and engage as partners in the systems that serve their children. The initiative is led by staff from the Riley Child Development Center and Family Voices Indiana in collaboration with the Indiana State Department of Health Title V Maternal and Child Health & Children’s Special Health Needs Services.

Families raising children with special health care needs encounter a maze of systems and services as they seek care for their children. Navigating these systems puts them in a great position to provide relevant feedback, but there is often a gap between experience and knowledge of how to make an impact on the systems they access.

Building Family Leaders provides training in the basic skills while also helping families assess their strengths and weaknesses. An online training portal is the perfect solution for busy families, as families can access the portal on their own schedule and work at their own pace.

Families using Building Family Leaders will positively impact quality of life while helping create more effective and efficient service systems for children and families. Building Family Leaders will be available online.

Wyoming Parent Leadership Training Institute

By Charla Ricciardi
Coordinator, Child and Adolescent Health, Wyoming Department of Health

The MCH program in Wyoming continues to recognize the role of families as equal partners in decision making in order to improve the health and safety of children and the improvement of early childhood systems in Wyoming. Since MCH piloted the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) in Cheyenne in 2009, they have continued to see it expand in communities including a total of five locations across the state in 2014. In addition to 68 hours of classroom time, each parent leader invests their time and effort into a community project of their choosing. One parent in Albany County is advocating for an increase in curb cuts in the city to create greater access and opportunities for children who require a special mobility device. This same parent was empowered to join a city board that addresses similar needs of adults and children with disabilities. In the frontier county of Hot Springs (total county population of 4,822), a parent is working with the local public health office to bring prenatal classes back to the area. Through PLTI of the Wind River Indian Reservation, the 2012 and 2013 community projects of parent leaders are resulting in positive changes in schools, a mentoring program between grandparents and fourth-eighth grade students ,and a cooking class to teach youth about proper nutrition and healthy eating to just name a few.

PLTI graduates are invited to partner with and provide insight to the Wyoming MCH programs. The PLTI of Wyoming continues to impact systems change, increase health equity, and bolster family engagement as parents are empowered to create lasting change on behalf of children.

For more information contact Charla Ricciardi, child health program manager, or Anne Siebert, parent leadership and engagement coordinator.

Oklahoma Family Network

By Joni Bruce
Executive Director, Oklahoma Family Network

Since 2008, the Oklahoma Family Network (OFN) and partners, including state agencies and disability related organizations have held annual family professional partnerships state conferences. Participants have included families of, and individuals with, special health care needs and professionals serving them. Outcomes have included the development of a consumer advisory council at one state agency and changes in policy and family/consumer involvement in organizations that are involved. In 2012, OFN received a grant from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to provide five regional institutes promoting and building family and consumer involvement across the state. Local planning committees, including a subset of the original committee and partners in the regions, planned and promoted the events. Four of the five institutes were held in rural or frontier areas of the state. Sessions included: The Importance of Family Leadership and Getting Connected, Local Successful Partnerships, Learning to Share on Boards & Committees, Telling Your Story Specific to Your Audience, and Building Relationships with Policymakers. OFN and partners will continue these institutes for four years building a network of consumers and families armed with leadership skills to promote innovative strategies ensuring continued growth of family involvement and voice.