Due to the rising number of children with disabilities, the needs of these families must be addressed. This article describes the development and implementation of a regional forum in a rural community to address education and training needs of families and professionals. The Special Needs Summit provided workshops, information, and activities for parents and professionals. Participants were invited to participate in a study through a survey soliciting feedback regarding the importance and effectiveness of the training and information received through the Summit, gaps in resources, and future educational and training needs. Overall, participants gave satisfactory ratings regarding the training and education provided during the forum, and gave direction for future programming.

Key Take Away Points

  • Families of children with special needs require an array of resources, information, supports, and services.
  • A forum was developed within a rural community to address some of the needs of these families for information, resources, and access to services while providing training and continuing education for professionals working with children and families.
  • The evaluative surveys obtained from participants identified topics for future training and research and yielded promising results in participants’ increased knowledge and desire to be an advocate.

Author Biography

Saundra Starks, EdD, LCSW, Associate Professor of Social Work at Western Kentucky University, has over 30 years of social work practice experience which includes teaching, consultation, training, and clinical practice. She is the Director of the Family Resource Program at the Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex, and has numerous presentations and publications in the areas of diversity, women, spirituality, mental health, supervision, cultural competency, and leadership training. Dr. Starks also maintains a part-time psychotherapy practice in Bowling Green, Kentucky (Bower, Starks, Reeves & Associates). In addition, she serves on several national, international, and local community service committees and boards.

Dana Sullivan, MSW, PhD is an assistant professor in Western Kentucky University’s Department of Social Work. She is currently part of the evaluation team for Project MATCH, the state’s diligent recruitment project. She has served as co-principal investigator on numerous studies related to child welfare training and evaluation, agency-university partnerships, mental health evidence-based practice, and healthy relationships for high-risk youth. She was one of the principal investigators on a federal grant providing healthy relationships education to high-risk youth community-based settings and served as staff on a Children’s Bureau grant that provided training to teams in child welfare on the issue of youth aging out of foster care.

Vella Mae Travis, MSW, CSW, is the Family Resource Program Coordinator at the Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 1996 and a master’s degree in Social Work in 2008, both from Western Kentucky University. Vella Mae has been in the field of social work for several years in various positions, mainly working with or on behalf of families and children. In her current position, she connects individuals and families with education, support, and needed services within the community, while supervising student interns in the undergraduate and graduate social work programs.