This article appeared in the Fall 2009 CLINIC NEWS.
When Mr. A first sought assistance from the Special Education Clinic (SEC), in his own words he had “nowhere else to turn.” Mr. A’s daughter, M, is deaf with multiple developmental and psychiatric problems, and he sought the SEC’s help in getting her the appropriate educational services to which she is entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The local school district’s failure to properly address M’s needs had resulted in poor educational progress as well as severe behavioral problems, including inflicting injury on herself and others. All of this was having a profound effect on the family’s ability to function.
At the time Mr. A retained the SEC, M was receiving only two hours per week of home tutoring. The once middle-class family with six children now was struggling to make ends meet, living off approximately $15,000 annually. Mr. A, overwhelmed and depressed, had been unable to find steady work in the current economy for more than one year. The family home was in foreclosure and utility companies threatened to turn off their heat and electricity. The family had little money for food and other necessary expenses. Although M was eligible for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Mr. A had been unable to complete the necessary paperwork.
This case presented many challenges. While the ultimate goal was a residential placement for M in a school for the deaf that could accommodate her needs, clinical law student Peter Wagner ’09 first set out to quickly locate a temporary school placement. After M was enrolled in a local school for students with multiple disabilities, Peter successfully advocated for a full reevaluation of M at the school district’s expense, to be conducted by independent evaluators with extensive experience in working with students with hearing impairments. This included educational, speech and language, psychological, and psychiatric evaluations. The SEC recently obtained the evaluation results and the clinic now is using them to advocate for an appropriate residential program for M.
Following a thorough social assessment, social work intern Carol Rogoff MSW ’10 assisted Mr. A in accessing necessary social supports and community resources. Carol helped Mr. A to amass the documents needed to complete and submit various public benefits applications. Carol also identified possible funding sources for a new processor for M’s cochlear implant, which had broken more than one year earlier but which the family could not afford to replace. The family subsequently was approved for food stamps and utility assistance, and is waiting for a determination regarding SSI. In addition, Carol spent many hours with Mr. A building his comfort level with allowing an outside child behavioral support agency to come into the home to provide some respite care and additional assistance. These services are now in place.
Peter and Carol worked tirelessly in tandem and independently to obtain essential supports and services for M and her family. While Peter served as the zealous advocate with the school district, Carol fostered a level of trust with the family such that they were willing to accept the assistance and supports they so desperately needed. Together, Carol and Peter’s interdisciplinary advocacy helped this family to take initial steps to get back on their feet and focus attention on meeting M’s educational needs as well as the needs of her five siblings.