A few minutes with … Janise Hardy

POSITION: Vermilion Parish schools family facilitator for special education.

AGE: 53.

Since 2009, Janise Hardy, of Abbeville, has worked with families of special-needs children in Vermilion Parish schools, acting as a liaison between them and their children’s schools. Hardy says her job is to bridge communication between parents and teachers or administrators. As a mother of a nonverbal child with Down syndrome and autism, Hardy faces some of the same issues as the parents she works with. Her daughter is now 30, but Hardy’s experiences navigating medical and educational diagnoses to ensure her daughter received appropriate services shape the work she does today.

What does your job entail?

It’s multidimensional. More of what I do is a personal one-on-one with parents. There are times because of the nature of a child’s disability — be it medical or behavioral problems — that their educational setting can become contentious. Parents and educators may hit heads. My job — the way I try to do it — is to bridge that gap. I try to help parents feel empowered and to communicate with teachers and educators and administrators because no one gets into this profession not wanting to help kids.

What are the needs you see as you work with parents?

More and more our society is asking our children to be mainstreamed or in regular education classes if they can handle it, but we’re not giving our teachers the necessary training to do that job. We also need more training for our support teachers and staff who help in the classroom.

What are some common issues parents face?

The main questions are: Where do I start? What do I put on the IEP (Individual Education Plan) for my child to ensure their educational needs are met? Parents sometimes don’t understand that a medical diagnosis is not the same as an educational diagnosis.

How many families do you help in any given month?

Last month, I worked with 85 families.

What attracted you to this job?

I had parents help me along the way when my child was growing, but in the educational system, there was always that component lacking. You attend an IEP meeting with school personnel, then you were left to your own devices. My greatest joy in my job is the personal connections that I make. I find grace in my own individual struggle — in my past with my child, and ongoing. She’s 30 and there are still issues. If you find grace in your individual struggle, you leave the bitterness behind. There is joy.

Advocate staff writer

Marsha Sills