The Center for Children’s Advocacy is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the legal rights of poor children whose care is dependent on Connecticut’s judicial, child welfare, health, mental health, education and juvenile justice systems.
The Center serves hundreds of individual children each year, providing the legal advocacy needed to give these children a chance to lead healthy, productive lives. Thousands of Connecticut children are helped each year by the Center’s systemic and legislative work.
The Center works at preventing and diverting children from involvement in the juvenile justice system by helping them access education, mental health and related services. They work in urban public school systems to hold school-based Truancy Courts that intervene to prevent truancy and avoid referral to the juvenile justice system. They collaborate with the Juvenile Probation and Public Defender’s ofﬁces to help youth access special education services and mental health treatment. One of these children was Jason.
Jason’s academic struggles began long before the day he was arrested at school for a fight in the cafeteria. He’s only 13, but has a long history of academic failure and in the past school year he has had over 60 unverified absences and 50 days of outside-school suspension. He lost more than half the year of education.
Despite an early diagnosis of depressive disorder, difficulty controlling his anger and a long history of academic failure, Jason had never been evaluated for special education. Teacher reports continually noted severe behavior problems. Jason’s grades reflected his struggles, revealing performance significantly below grade level in every subject.
The school has a legal obligation to refer Jason to special education, but no evaluations were done until the Center for Children’s Advocacy became involved. The Center reviewed Jason’s educational records and helped his mother request evaluations.
Jason’s diagnostic evaluations determined a language-based learning disability and the school agreed that Jason should not be expelled. He was found eligible for special education and placed in a therapeutic program where he receives therapeutic support and a structured behavioral redirection program. He has flourished, both academically and behaviorally, receiving an A or B in each of his classes. Jason was not suspended once during the remainder of the school year.
School staff are working with Jason on effective communication to help him develop a mechanism to cope with his emotions, and he will continue to receive evaluations to insure that his progress continues. The school social worker describes him as a role model for other students.
Like Jason, many juvenile offenders struggle with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness and unsupported educational disabilities. The Center’s TeamChild attorneys intervene to secure appropriate services for these youth to help them succeed in school and look forward to a safe and secure future.
TeamChild helps with educational support, special education needs, school discipline and access to mental health care. The Center’s legal advocacy and representation is supported by a team of multidisciplinary professionals from the UCONN School of Medicine and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
“Children without this all-inclusive support often fail to succeed in school and their communities and eventually become casualties of the criminal justice system. The Center for Children’s Advocacy has proven to be creative and effective in developing community-based collaborative programs that address the needs of these children,” said Susan Storey, Connecticut’s Chief Public Defender.
For more information about the Center’s services, or to find out what you can do to help, call their offices in Hartford (860-570-5327) or Bridgeport (203-335-0719) or visit their website at http://www.kidscounsel.org.