Managing your child’s food allergies can feel like the stuff of Greek Mythology—much like Sisyphus compelled to push a boulder up to the top of a very steep mountain, only to have it roll back down to the bottom and start the process all over again. The constant monitoring, label reading and educating can be exhausting. Pushing that proverbial rock up the mountain does not have to be a solitary task; unlike Sisyphus, parents can get help and support from community and friends. More specifically, help from groups available in many communities around the nation, which are designed to support parents of children who suffer from food allergies.
Supporting Kids Safely
Support groups for children with food allergies function the same as any other support group. They can help parents who have children with allergies in a variety of ways. Groups host meetings, forums and events in the community to provide education and a safe, fun atmosphere for kids suffering from food allergies. Rather than being “that one kid with the allergy,” many of the kids participating in support group functions suffer from some type of food allergy. And rather than feeling different and possibly isolated, kids can feel included and supported.
Support groups are generally run by volunteers and led by other parents in the community who have children who suffer from food allergies. They are also generally cost free, though some may seek donations or other monetary sources to fund community and group events.
The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Organization maintains a list of food allergy support groups located throughout the nation. FARE has developed policies to ensure, among other things, groups listed on their website are led by volunteers with a background in food allergies or who collaborate with a board certified allergist, who serves as the group’s advisor.
A Support Group Near You
Finding a support group in your area is as easy as a simple Internet search. Typing the words “food allergy support group,” will return pages of information. However, not all the groups listed in the search results offer the same support. Try researching various groups in your area to determine if one could be a match for you and your child. Answering the following questions can help you find a reputable support group that can enrich your child’s life and offer education and support.
- Find out how long the group has been in existence. Is it established or fledgling?
- Does the leader have a background in allergy management or is the group advised by a physician or certified allergist?
- How frequently do they meet and what types of events do they host?
- Do they promote allergy education that is research driven and documented?
Additionally, starting from an established website can improve the quality of search results. Many sites hosted by allergy networks such as FARE provide searchable databases to find support groups by state or region.
If You Build It, They Will Come
If your search to find a support group in your area was less than successful, you may consider starting a support group yourself. You could create an informal group of parents and kids in your community that gets together and has outings or play dates, so that kids have an opportunity to be with other kids “like them,” and parents can talk to and support each other. If you’re interested, you could even create a more formal group that provides education, community awareness and forums along with events for parents and kids to enjoy.
If you create and lead a group that becomes a “FARE recognized support group,” you are eligible to the following special benefits for community leadership:
- Public listing in the FARE Support Group Directory
- Referrals from FARE National and Regional Offices
- Access to FARE closed Support Group Leader Facebook Group for peer-to-peer communication and resources
- Promotion from FARE’s Education Department of local community events your Support Group hosts, upon request.
- Opportunity to apply for annual funding and educational materials for your group through FARE’s Community Outreach Grant Program
- Invitation to FARE’s Annual Leaders’ Summit, including travel reimbursement opportunities and discount registration for FARE’s Annual Conference
- Digital recognition for your group with FARE’s Support Group Web Badge (updated annually)
FARE has also developed a strategy to ensure support groups are equipped with necessary guidance to thrive and provide safe effective information and support. To become a FARE recognized food allergy support group, the following criteria must be met:
- Completion of a FARE New Support Group Application Form
- The group must be in existence a minimum of six months
- The group must hold a meeting once every three months (in-person, via webinar, or via teleconference) or facilitate meeting objectives via an active online forum that consists of a specific community-oriented user base*
- New groups must submit two testimonials from current members as to how the support group is beneficial to them.
- Groups must provide a letter of support from a board-certified allergist who serves as the group’s medical advisor on letterhead.
The medical advisor must also:
- Have experience managing food allergies
- Sign an attestation with FARE agreeing to only support and promote research-documented testing and treatment methods for food allergies
- Be licensed to practice medicine in your Support Group’s state or a neighboring state
- Recommit to Medical Advisor role and attestation terms once every three years
Whether you choose to join an existing support group, create an informal group or start one that meets guidelines such as those required by FARE, participating might help. The added community support might make pushing that boulder uphill easier, less stressful and maybe even a little fun.