In 1975, the same year Youth Advocate Programs was founded, children and youth with disabilities across the United States received the right to "a free and appropriate public education" under a federal law now called The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
For many students with the most serious disabilities, however, that right has never been fully realized. Some students continue to be placed away from their families and neighborhood in out-of-district or residential settings. Others, though physically in the school building, may not be receiving the supports and services they need- and are entitled- to succeed. Others may be placed in restrictive self-contained classrooms within those buildings, resulting in separation from the typical peers who should become their role models and friends. When the school day is done, they often lack the support needed to access afterschool activities and get out in their communities, and tend to remain invisible spectators of a world in which they have no means to participate productively.
As increasing number of parents realize that their children are being denied the full promise of the IDEA, they are turning to the due process system provided by that law to start fixing the problem. School districts frequently provide the families of underserved students with disabilities with a voucher-type funding system called "compensatory education," which allows parents to buy, on the open market, the services they decide that their child needs in order to compensate for missed educational opportunities. When families are awarded settlements, the money is put in an educational trust for the child or placed with the school to use for the child's education.
The problem, however, is that there is often no plan on how to obtain or provide services. Moreover, as families shop for services such as occupational therapy, they find that there is nothing for them. Pat Amos, one of YAP's autism consultants, became aware of the issue when she began to receive calls from Special Education lawyers seeking service providers on behalf of their clients. The lawyers represent families of special needs children who have brought suit against school districts for IDEA non-compliance and similar charges.
YAP is bridging the gap in service by getting families access to special tutoring, occupational therapy and other direct services they so desperately need through a blend of our traditional wraparound/advocate models with special emphasis on the educational system and our ASD/DD approach to working with and on behalf of youth and families.
YAP's Autism/DD system change and direct service work goes beyond simply keeping children and youth in the community to promoting and fostering real and meaningful inclusion in school, at work, and in community activities.
Philadelphia is the home of the first YAP Education Services Program. For more information, contact Bridget Hutt, Program Director, 215-599-2991.