Families of Children with Special Needs Receive Significant Benefits from USD COMPASS Family Center,

A new study finds that the services offered by the COMPASS (COMPrehensive Access to Services and Support) Family Center at the University of San Diego significantly reduce stress levels and increase positive coping skills for parents of children with special needs.


According to a study by Dr. Mary Baker-Ericzen at the nationally recognized Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (CASRC), parents who have children with special needs experience high levels of total stress, with 79 percent of parents at clinical levels.  After receiving COMPASS counseling services, only 8 percent of the parents reported high levels of parent-related stress, a dramatic decrease from 64 percent before services. In addition, COMPASS Services had a profound impact on decreasing negative coping mechanisms and increasing positive coping skills. Results showed significant increases in parents using emotional support, positive reframing and acceptance as a means to positively cope with their family’s challenges.


All families who received COMPASS counseling services completed an assessment regarding parent stress and coping strategies before and after receiving services. The number of counseling sessions varied and was based on the specific needs of each family.  Two measures were used in the assessments: the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) and the Brief COPE. Both the PSI and the Brief COPE have been used widely in the mental health field and measure psychological and emotional states.               


“These results are significant because most counseling services provided to families of children with special needs focus on the child,” says Sharna Langlais, COMPASS Development Director. “While these types of interventions have shown a decrease in child-related stress, parent-related stress has not been impacted. The COMPASS Family Center’s services specifically address parent-related stress.”


Employing a pioneering strategy of combining services in a family-centered capacity, COMPASS services address the secondary impacts of having a child with special needs that can occur throughout the family such as marital strain, sibling distress, parental grief and isolation.  Through its services, the COMPASS Family Center provides family needs assessments, community referrals, marriage and family counseling and special education advocacy consultations.


“The unique service that we were given was to help our family as a family,” says Mary Farrell, a parent who received services through the COMPASS Family Center.  “The impact from the services reached everyone in our family.”


“Too often parents feel overwhelmed and distressed with the life changes that are needed to support their child with special needs but are unaware of these negative impacts because they build up over time,” says Baker-Ericzén, who is also the clinical supervisor for the COMPASS Counseling Program.  “The COMPASS Family Center provides a place for parents to gain this awareness and offers support for all family members.  The 100 percent satisfaction record for the counseling services is testimony that these services are of tremendous value.”


"We designed COMPASS services with families in mind.  The outcome data of our pilot study shows that we are on the right track,” says COMPASS Founder, Moisés Barón, Ph.D.  “Parents do benefit when they receive guidance and support in a comprehensive and integrated manner.  They feel less stressed, better able to cope, and they feel more empowered to advocate for their child and for themselves".


Founded in 2002, the COMPASS Family Center (formerly the Center for Families of Children with Special Needs) at the University of San Diego is a multi-disciplinary organization that represents an innovative collaboration between the University’s schools of Law, Leadership and Educational Sciences, and Nursing and Health Sciences. Together, COMPASS has created a comprehensive educational, training and service center for families who have children with special needs, and for the professionals who strive to serve them.  


The University of San Diego is a Catholic institution of higher learning chartered in 1949; the school enrolls some 7,500 students and is known for its commitment to teaching, the liberal arts, the formation of values and community service. The establishment of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies will bring the University’s total number of schools and colleges to six. Other academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences and the schools of Business Administration, Leadership and Education Sciences, Law and Nursing and Health Sciences.



About the University of San Diego

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. With more than 9,000 students from 69 countries and 50 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. The university's eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. USD's Envisioning 2024 strategic plan capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns new strategic goals with current strengths to help shape a vision for the future as the university looks ahead to its 75th anniversary in the year 2024.