Written by Victoria Hart
Learning that your baby has Down syndrome is an overwhelming and emotional experience for most parents. That’s why the “first call” is so important.
In January, DSAWM launched the First Call Network. This important program connects new and expectant families who have just received a Down syndrome diagnosis to trained Parent Mentors who offer compassionate support, information, and guidance. For most families, that “first call” is their introduction to the Down syndrome community. Speaking with another parent who has walked in their shoes and can answer questions about the challenges and joys that lie ahead has a huge impact on the child and family.
“Those first couple of months after a diagnosis are incredibly important – not to mention finding a strong local support system,” says Parent Mentor Ben Hughes.
Ben is one of nine DSAWM members who completed training with the MDSC National Parents First Call Center last month to become a Parent Mentor. Now, when DSAWM receives a referral either from a hospital or directly from a new family, an immediate connection can be made with parents like Ben. Parent Mentors are carefully matched with families based on several factors including geographic area, ethnicity and primary language, shared health issues, and diagnosis stories. During that family’s first year, their Parent Mentor will periodically check-in to offer support, answer questions, and send personal invitations to DSAWM programs and events.
“When we got our prenatal diagnosis, I was given a brochure by my OB, but other than that I did not have any local connections. I found an amazing community through social media, but I feel like we can do better.”
Parent Mentor Kathy Winn is right. We can do better. DSAWM’s First Call Network will help us reach more families at the time when they are most in need of support. It will also ensure that those new families are welcomed into the DSAWM community and know that we are here to support them for the journey ahead.
Our first Parent Mentor connections are already being made and we are starting to see how this program will positively impact families across West Michigan. To take that outreach one step further, we are excited to share that our First Call Network is partnering with nationally recognized nonprofit Jack’s Baskets. Through this partnership, we will be able to provide gift baskets to every new family who joins our community, as well as equip local medical providers with tools to discuss the diagnosis in an unbiased way in hopes that having a baby with Down syndrome is celebrated like any other.
Our community continues to grow year after year. DSAWM is committed to ensuring that each new family is welcomed with a congratulatory and supportive first call.
For more information about the First Call Network, visit www.dsawm.org/firstcall.