February 24, 2018

Minnesota Hands & Voices Targets Disparities

Lifetrack program hires culturally-specific Parent Guides

Where you are, we have been there too—this philosophy is essential to Minnesota Hands & Voices’ (MNHV) work. It’s a community of families who all share the experience of having children who are deaf or hard of hearing. MNHV Parent Guides are also parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing—they visit families in their homes to offer them support, tell their own families’ stories and help parents through the countless medical and educational choices that emerge once your child’s been identified with hearing loss.
The purpose is to offer support from someone who can relate—someone who knows the struggle personally.
But as Minnesota becomes more and more diverse, it is a bold statement to suggest that the MNHV staff can effectively initiate this mission across cultures, languages and backgrounds. How can you say you’ve been in all families’ shoes, when those families have emigrated from multiple parts of the world? Speak several different languages at home? Have a variety of cultural traditions and experiences?
In 2013, MNHV began a serious initiative to address this issue, by hiring Parent Guides from a range of cultural backgrounds. The goal was to address the widening disparities that put children from these backgrounds more at risk. With new funding, MNHV was able to hire new Parent Guides to help support families from the Northeast African, Southeast Asian and Spanish-speaking communities.
One Parent Guide, Judy Cavazos-Beal, says the biggest challenge is the complex layers obstacles that families might have: “Some families may have financial and housing problems, some families are separated physically in two different countries, some have neglected health and mental health needs… some don’t know how to navigate what for many comes easier here, like knowing how to use public transportation, applying for programs, or who to talk to if you have concerns with your child’s education.”
Another Parent Guide, Saida Sheik-Mohamed, says she sees the need for a guide who is from the same community: “I know that parents feel more comfortable communicating their concerns and problems about their children’s condition because I give them the opportunity to share their feelings, fears, and wishes in their language.”
Saida recently worked with a family who moved to the U.S. a few years ago. Their daughter communicates primarily with American Sign Language (ASL), which the parents hadn’t had the opportunity to learn. With Saida’s help, the mother and father signed up for ASL classes through the Muslim Deaf Community and are on their way to being able to better communicate with their 12-year-old daughter.
“The responses have been very positive,” says Candace Lindow-Davies, Manager of Minnesota Hands & Voices. The increase of new attendees was a signal that the new outreach to these communities was working. “When we first brought on the guides, we saw an increase in the number of new families who attended [the MNHV-hosted community] events. The picnic numbers were just jumping,” says Candace.
The work of building inclusivity and eliminating disparities is a complex process, but it is work that the MNHV staff take seriously. “Why should some kids have a disadvantage?” asks Candace Lindow-Davies. “Having a culturally-specific parent guide doesn’t fix all of it, but certainly chisels away at the problem.”

Lifetrack program hires culturally-specific Parent Guides. The purpose is to offer support from someone who can relate, someone who knows the struggle personally.

Parent Guide

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