My last two blogs addressed a situation I’ve been confronted with relating to my Support Group. This one is yet another continuation… things have gotten much worse.
The mutual friend wanted me to call so we could talk, after sending me a message saying she thought we should discuss the situation, that she’d decided to back away from the group and to not be involved in the ‘core support team’, as she’d said she would do.
During our conversation, she continued to defend her friend, who’d chosen to go out on her own, without coordinating with me or communicating with me after I’d asked for contact information for the people she was talking to about my group. She did acknowledge that I had every right to control the group’s message and manage the distribution of information about the group, then telling me her friend had not shared anything with anyone yet and that she’d only spoken to a doctor’s office.
She had previously told me she’d spoken to a local group that I was aware of and had messaged, as well as another organization and she’d said that she’d spoken to parents and discovered that they knew nothing about the group.
She suggested that her friend had told me at the organizational meeting that she could do ‘this, this, and this’, as she looked at the organization folder I’d provided to each person who’d volunteered to help with the group. She then told me that I’d said, “That’s great! Those things all still need done.”
I do not recall saying that, I don’t recall hearing her tell me she could do this, that or anything for that matter. I was going over the folder with the person next to me and the person seated on his other side because he was about to leave. Unfortunately, she was not my focus during the meeting.
I thought about it afterward and realized that it wasn’t a valid defense of what she’d done. She still should have spoken to me about what I had done, what she was thinking might be a good idea to do, etc.
My intention had been to go over the folders with everyone, ask them to look at the ‘roles’ I needed to fill within the group and then I was going to have a web-meeting with the core support team the week before our first parent meeting, at which time I would have asked what each person could do to help out and I planned to explain to them how I’m managing our materials, contacts, resources, etc. She didn’t give me a chance to do that.
When I asked the mutual friend why she was backing out she said she wanted to preserve our friendship. I told her I felt I was being punished for questioning her friend because the disagreements we’d had, had only begun recently, because of this other person. I reminded her that I had told her I didn’t want her to be a liaison between her friend and myself, that we shouldn’t be discussing her friend’s situation because her friend had told me things about her situation that our mutual friend aggressively argued with me about. Yet she’d continued to play ‘go-between’ rather than telling her friend to show me some respect and call me directly.
When I tried to explain to her why it was problematic to share the group’s information outside of our service area, that we were being careful to distribute information within the 12 county region, she suggested that people didn’t know we were here, that the people her friend was talking to hadn’t heard about us. (This made sense, seeing as how I’d been focusing more on the nuts and bolts of the group than on outreach, as my sponsor explained that the group’s numbers would grow as we had more meetings and word of mouth circulated our information.)
It was at this point that she suggested that the brochures should have the counties within the service region printed on them, the flyers should have them listed on them. I explained that if we were controlling where they were being distributed it wasn’t necessary. It was only necessary now that her friend had gone outside the region.
I want to explain why I don’t want to distribute the group’s information outside the North Central Region… my group isn’t only about offering advocacy skills training and support, but information about available services and resources. Services and programs are not uniformly available or implemented across the state. Each County implements services in different ways, not all counties offer the same programs and services (more rural areas, for example, have much less available). I don’t think it’s possible that I could have access to resources and contacts across the state. Also, there are 501 School Districts in my state. Not all School Districts offer the same supports in the same way or even offer the same array of special education classrooms. Not all Districts’ documents look alike or are handled in the same way (for example- the state says certain elements must appear in the IEP, but districts can add things as well as arrange them differently so that IEP documents aren’t necessarily laid out in the same way).
If my group is going to be a reputable source for accurate information and resources, if it is going to be taken seriously and receive referrals, I have to be educated about social services and programs as well as education services available in the counties we take on the responsibility to serve. A previous position I held covered 8 of the 12 counties in this North Central Region, so I’m familiar with the majority of the service area and have relationships with some folks within those organizations and school districts.
I understand that someone who isn’t familiar with services, or the way programs are implemented wouldn’t understand that they differ from county to county, district to district, which is exactly the reason why I was controlling where we were distributing flyers, exactly the reason why I planned to ask folks who wanted to help, to coordinate with me, maintain open communication. Otherwise, I would be stuck ‘cleaning up’ a chaotic mess.
I told her that we had initiated contact with parents by asking service providers, intermediate units, etc., to distribute our flyers, as they are the ‘front line’ when it comes to addressing the needs of parents. At that point, she suggested that it might appear I was using the agencies to ‘screen’ potential parents for the support group. I was stunned. If that were the case, then the same could be said about asking the school districts to distribute our flyers. The idea is ludicrous. Partnering with service providers and educators to reach parents in need is the best way to reach parents who need help the most.
As a result of the organizational meeting I found someone willing to take on the #2 position in the group, to share responsibilities with me. I discussed this situation with this person without using names and asked them if they thought there was a better way I could have handled it. She is an office manager and agreed with me that one person HAS TO manage the group, has to keep records and know what’s going on, that communication is key and controlling where and how our materials are reaching parents is vital to managing the group. She indicated that this person should have waited to have been assigned a role they could play within the dynamics of the group, rather than going off on their own knowing little about what had been previously done or was planned to be done.
So, now, my relationship with the mutual friend is seriously jeopardized. I feel abandoned, I feel betrayed, I feel as if the voice of ‘sensible and professional reason’ throughout this process has done a 180 degree turn about to protect the feelings of another, more sympathetic, friend. I felt that the accusation that it might appear that I was using service providers to ‘screen’ parents was meant to wound.
I’m not sure where we go from here, but I have decided that I’m standing my ground in managing the Support Group. I will not be bullied by anyone in regard to my justification for the way I’m managing the group. I welcome help from others, I want parents to take ownership of the group, but we cannot accomplish anything if we approach it in a chaotic way, there has to be structure. If someone doesn’t appreciate that, then perhaps they are more concerned with what they are getting from the group, rather than what they can do to help others through the group and if that’s the case, then they aren’t right for the core support team.