Frontline Initiative Working with Families

Family Support 360 Program:
A holistic approach


Verónica Guzmán serves as the Family Support 360 Coordinator for The Arc of King County, WA.

Many programs supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) focus on the individual. Other programs focus on caretakers and family members separately. The Family Support 360 Program focuses on supporting the needs of the entire family. These services are provided through a one-stop center. 

So how do we support the needs of an entire family? As a Direct Support Professional (DSP), you know that it is challenging enough to assist a single person. At The Arc of King County & Spokane, we struggled with this question. We found that we needed to ask families to prioritize their needs. In our program, we depend on staff we refer to as Navigators.

Navigators are persons uniquely assigned to a family. They share the family’s same culture and language. They guide and support families to address their top three concerns. Navigators meet with families. They help them develop a comprehensive Family Centered Plan. A Family Centered Plan is basically a plan of action. The family and Navigator set objectives and specific tasks. This is in order to address the family’s unique needs. Navigators do not provide direct services such as employment, housing, financial help, or therapies. Instead, they help families gain access to information and relevant sources of support. They connect families with government services and community networks. They are also connected to families from their same communities. These are families who also have a family member with I/DD. Cultural differences play a huge role in the Family Support 360 Program. For example, in the Somali community the word autism does not exist. Somali Navigators have found that they need to explain what autism means to families in different ways. They will describe the characteristics of autism. They will introduce families to other Somali families who care for children with autism. They will also provide them with information. This includes videos that explain the disorder in a family friendly way. What may seem like denial may simply be a disconnection between different cultures. Somali families tend to have a better understanding of an autism diagnosis when they receive an explanation. The explanation should include references to their own culture. 

Our recent program data points to common areas of concern across all groups. The primary concern of families is education. They are also concerned with health and financial stress. Many African American families report not receiving adequate educational services. They report the need to access early intervention services. They also need adequate school-to-work transition plans. African American Navigators work hard to connect families to services that “fill-in the gaps.” 

 Latino and Vietnamese Navigators work closely with new immigrant families. Navigators encourage them to participate in their children’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Some Vietnamese immigrants in the program feel scared to send their children with I/DD to school. Latino parents tend to feel grateful that their children with I/DD can attend school. In most cases, this is the first time the child with I/DD attends school. 

 Parents don’t know what their rights are. They often do not know what questions to ask. They need support to participate in a school system that is overwhelming. Through Family Support 360, The Arc of King County and Spokane aim to empower families in the diverse communities. This is our mission to create change at a local and system’s level. 

For example, in the Somali community the word autism does not exist. Somali Navigators have found that they need to explain what autism means to families in different ways.