Family Support: The Essence of our History

February 1, 2020

The Connection That So Many Depend On

Family Support & Family Stabilization Services, including our Family Support Center & Family Autism Center, are core programs that The Arc has provided for more than 30 years. These services are often the very first supports that a family receives after their child is diagnosed with a disability or when they move to our region. Based on our interactions with families, we’ve learned that family support can be a lifeline service – helping families to remain together, ensuring a supportive home, and allowing working parents to continue with their jobs. 

The Arc of South Norfolk has provided these services in partnership and contract with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for over 30 years. These services are an essential part of our mission. Funded by DDS, we provide experienced professional staff to guide families with advocacy and advice for available services. Additionally, thanks to our generous donors, we are able to offer services and supports to many who come to our centers, especially those in immediate need, even if those services are not funded by the Commonwealth. 

Our original program was based on a respite care model, providing staffing services, now delivered to the homes of numerous individuals and their families. Our services have expanded to offering information and referral, clinical services, skills training, brokerage services, crisis intervention, support groups and service navigation. Additionally, the program administers flexible funding and purchased goods and services for families such as adaptive equipment, specialized activities and emergencies. 

Throughout our 65-year history, we have made it a priority to design programs that both involve community members and reflect the self-advocacy of our constituents. The Family Autism Center began at the request of families and is now one of the seven Autism Support Centers funded by DDS. The center is a state leader, advocating for legislative policy on behalf of the people with autism spectrum disorder; serving as a powerful community resource with programs such as ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition) and administering the Autism Children’s Waiver program. 

Additionally, we administer the DESE program, a collaborative program between DDS and the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education. DESE supports families through services to support the families in keeping their children at home, rather than choosing a residential school. 

All of these programs rely on a full array of professional staff. These services are essential for many families and for the people we serve. In addition to the historical respite services and financial stipends that The Arc administers on behalf of the Commonwealth, we offer service navigation to assist families with flexible funding and accessing public benefits such as Social Security, MassHealth, and SNAP. These staff help families access services such as HESSCO Elder Services, Meals on Wheels, and guardianship planning. 

We also assist individuals and families with referrals to the Autism Insurance Resource Center for coverage of various therapies, to Autism Housing Pathways for public housing resources, and to IEP clinics to advise families on their child’s Individual Education Plan. These services are all provided at no cost to our individuals and families. Our focus is to broaden families’ knowledge and access to services in the greater community. 

Outside the home, it is important for our program to establish collaborations and partnerships with a number of organizations and businesses in our local communities, in order to offer a diverse array of choices for people to participate in. Those served by our program benefit from community social groups, school vacation week programs, community support social groups and family fun days. Examples of these partnerships include community movie days sponsored by the local Elks lodge and a weekly bocce program hosted by the Italian American Club. 

When life becomes challenging and difficult, when families experience a crisis and need professional assistance, our staff step in to help. Thanks to the support of funding from DDS, from the 12 towns in our area and from many private donors, we can be there for many of the needs, including emergency needs, of the people we support. 

Our organization was started by a group of families, and throughout our history the role of families – as founders, board members, donors, and supporters – has been essential to our success. Families also set the tone for our future, for the changing needs of the people we serve and how we provide it. 

We welcome feedback on your family support experience and suggestions for how your family can be better served. I invite you to visit our website at  Please feel free to contact Pamela Martino at (, our Director of Family Support, or Brian Clark (, our Director of the Family Autism Center. Also, we would appreciate your input with your DDS liaisons and state legislators about how our Family Support programs have helped you and your loved ones. 

Thank you.