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How to Start a FETA Group

parent groupYour book, Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy energized me and gave me direction. In the FETA book, I learned why support groups are so important.

After talking with several frustrated, discouraged parents, I decided to start a self-help group for parents of children with special education needs.

The group will help parents gain knowledge and skills to be effective advocates for their children. Instead of showing their emotions to school officials, parents can bring their problems to the group and receive guidance about how to handle specific problems.

As parents learn about the "rules of the game" and SMART IEPs, schools will realize that involving parents benefits them too. CAUSE, a state Parent Training organization, has offered to help with the parent training.

Do you have advice about how to start a group where parents can come together, learn information and skills, share concerns, and support each other? - from Chuck in Michigan

From Wrightslaw

Good idea! Your idea of starting a group to teach parents how to be effective advocates while also providing support is excellent.

  "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." - Confucius   

Before I discuss ways to start a FETA group, I would like to share a story with you.

Last year, we went to Hawaii to do a two-day advocacy training program (Boot Camp). In Hawaii, people live on islands that are quite distant from one another. Travel between islands is by plane so many people cannot afford to leave their islands. You can imagine how isolated many of these parents are.

The conference organizer got vouchers so several parents could fly to Honolulu for our Boot Camp. The vouchers covered airfare and accommodations. Each parent received a copy of Wrightslaw: Special Education Law.

The parents who attended Boot Camp went back to their islands and started FETA groups where they teach other parents the skills they learned. They are using our books, From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition and Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, as texts for these FETA groups.

Each Boot Camp parent is having a huge positive impact on many others. Maybe it goes back to the slogan, "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."

Our publisher
offers a 40% discount on bulk orders (boxes of 20 books) to individuals and groups for advocacy training.

Note:Wrightslaw Multimedia Training download was released in 2008, perfect for individual, staff, or parent group training. For enhanced training use the 6.5 hour program Special Education Law and Advocacy. Also available, Understanding Your Child's Test Scores. The 40% discount on bulk orders applies to all WebEx Training.

Pitfalls & Strategies

When you start a group, there are some issues you should keep in mind.

Negative Emotions

If the members do not make a commitment to learning, they are likely to spend time and energy complaining. If the group turns into a gripe session, you will not accomplish your objectives.

Strategy: Make the purpose of the group clear and explicit from the beginning.

"The purpose of a FETA Group is to teach information and skills and provide members with support, guidance, and practical help."

"Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but
the shape of the spoon
." - E. M. Forster

parents sitting in a circleTrust, Loss of Trust, Betrayal

When a child is first identified with a disability, many parents feel relieved. Assuming that school and medical personnel are "the experts," they turn decision-making over to others. They trust others to make wise decisions on their child's behalf. During this honeymoon stage, parents may not understand that they need to learn advocacy skills.

Eventually, something happens that shakes the parent's trust and leads the parent to question the school. If these trust issues are not resolved satisfactorily, communication between parent and school may break down. Trust is damaged. (We discuss these issues in depth in Chapter 6 of FETA.)

You are more likely to hear from parents who are in a crisis. These parents often feel that the school betrayed them and their child. Their emotions are strong. They may need help to manage their emotions before they can embark on a course of study.

If you have not been actively involved with a support group before, we suggest that you read a book or two about group counseling, You can usually find books about this subject in public libraries and college libraries. If you know about the stages of group development, it will be easier to keep your group on task.

Free Publicity for Your FETA Group

How will parents learn about your group? Here are some publicity strategies that work.

Flyers for Free Publicity

Print flyers and distribute them where parents will see them:

  • pediatrician's office
  • public library
  • heath departments & hospitals
  • child guidance clinics & mental health centers
  • offices of health care professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, etc.)
  • local bookstores
  • kindergarten and preschools
  • use as handouts at PTA meetings

When you print flyers, print information about your group in one side. Print your State Yellow Pages Flyer or Wrightslaw flyer.

Many school personnel are closet advocates for kids. If you have a school directory and funds for postage, you may want to send flyers to school personnel - teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, speech language pathologists, and others.

Many of these folks will tell parents about your group.

News Releases for Free Publicity

Most newspapers include announcements about community events and groups as a public service. Send a news release about your FETA group to the local newspaper.

Does the newspaper have a website? Does the website have a community events section? Send a news release to the webmaster.

Links to newspaper sites by state. (

Does one reporter write stories about parenting, education, or health issues? If you educate the reporter about the issues parents are facing, this reporter may do a story about these issues - and how your group will help.

Does your town have a radio or television show that makes announcements about community events? Fax or email your news release to these shows.

Wrightslaw & FetaWeb for Free Publicity

The State Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities is on the Fetaweb site. After we finished Yellow Pages for all states and territories, we made colorful flyers so people can distribute this information to others. Download and distribute your state Yellow Pages Flyer

Learn how to request a free listing for your FETA group in your state Yellow Pages.

40% Discount on Wrightslaw Books

Harbor House Law Press offers a special 40% discount on bulk orders from advocacy organizations and individuals who provide advocacy training and/or training. This discount is available for boxes of 20 books, 40 books, 60 books, etc. (minimum order is 20 books)

Deeper discounts are available on larger purchases. Shipping is free on orders of 6 cases or more.

Changing School Culture

You wrote that you want the school to realize that parent participation is beneficial to them. It sounds like you want to change school culture.

I have another story to share with you.

In February 2002, we did an advocacy training program in Skokie, Illinois, near Chicago. This program was organized by Chuck Kusar, a parent who started an organization called Special Connections.

On February 23, nearly 400 people came to Niles North High School for a Wrightslaw advocacy training program. (Article about program)

The principal, special education director, and several school board members gave us a warm welcome. They attended our program. Why did these school officials give permission for us to do an advocacy training program in the high school?

When the principal of Niles North High School introduced us, he said "I support parents - and I know actions speak louder than words."

He's right.

Schools will change when we educate, energize and mobilize parents and school personnel. We don't need an army to accomplish this objective. We need small dedicated groups of parents who understand the obstacles, know what they want to accomplish, are patient and determined, and do not quit when the going gets tough or the job takes longer than they expected.

Keep us posted about your FETA group!

More Articles

How to Start an Educational Advocacy Group



Revised: 09/29/15

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