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June 2012

Three-Years-Old, Not Talking Yet, In Need of Advocate

Advocates for Children staff attorney Randi Levine holds a workshop for parents and child care professionals on changes to City policies affecting young children with disabilities.

First words, first steps, the ABCs—milestones that mean the world to parents and are important benchmarks in a child’s development. When kids don’t meet these markers by a certain age, early therapeutic help can make the difference.

The New York State Early Intervention Program provides free speech, physical, and other therapies to children from birth to age three. If a child continues to need help, as many do, new agencies become responsible, and children can slip through the proverbial bureaucratic cracks. “For a child with disabilities, birth through age six is a time of frequent transition, and for the parents that can be very bewildering and stressful,” says Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children. By first grade, the Department of Health and the Department of Education’s (DoE) Committees on Preschool Education and Special Education may have all played a part in serving a child.

The coming year will be particularly challenging for families as the State and City plan major changes to services for disabled children. An$80,000 grant to Advocates for Children will support its work to make policies responsive to the needs of disabled kids and their families. One proposed change would have private insurers take over some of the costs from government, a move supported by Advocates. But the agency is fighting a stipulation that would give health insurance representatives a role in deciding what services children can get.

Advocates will run workshops on the changes and update its Turning 5 Guide for parents and professionals. The group will also provide legal advice and representation to low-income families. “We want to make sure that parents know the full range of schools available to their kids, how and when to apply, and what special services they are entitled to,” Sweet continues.

“Because of their work directly with families, Advocates plays a particularly important role in learning their needs and are then able to apply that knowledge directly to policies that shape the future of so many of the City’s children,” says Trust program officer Shawn Morehead.

In addition, a $100,000 grant to the Fund for Public Advocacy will be used to assess DoE’s efforts to reform special education, including changes to admission procedures for kindergarten students with disabilities.

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