Cari Levin experienced first-hand the challenges of obtaining educational supports and services for her son. Though her professional experience as a social worker trained her in navigating the complexity of public bureaucracy, Cari struggled to navigate the special education system on behalf of her child. Recognizing how much greater the struggle must be for caretakers who do not have her professional experience and privilege, Cari started Evanston CASE to provide advocacy, support and education services to improve the lives of all Evanston families impacted by disability. Evanston CASE started out ten years ago as a self-funded and volunteer-run organization, and today acts as a driving force for systemic change within our local school systems and the community to include and support students with disabilities.

Initially CASE focused solely on school advocacy work, addressing systemic issues regarding the academic and social-emotional health of students with disabilities. Since then, CASE has added more direct supportive services, such as parent support groups offered twice a month and a vigorous online private Facebook group that allows its 500 parent members to share information and form a sense of community. Cari says, “Parents often tell me that CASE is the only space where they feel safe and understood. Having a child with a disability can be a very isolating experience, so it is important to provide connection, which is why CASE has created spaces for parents to come together and feel supported by peers who understand their circumstances.”

CASE and the Moran Center recently teamed up to create the Parent Partners Program. This program pairs advocates, who have personal experience with the special education system and have also been trained by CASE and the Moran Center, with parents who are require additional support in navigating the special education process. The purpose of the Parent Partners Program is to empower caregivers to successfully advocate for their child’s educational needs. The program has trained 13 “Parent Partners.” Cari shared, “Many of the Parents Partners have said that they felt gratified that they could pay it forward while the recipients have felt, heard and supported and hopeful about the outcomes of their meetings.” Cari hopes that by teaching Parent Partners how to advocate for others, eventually this support system will grow organically to include all parents who are navigating the special education process.