A Community Approach to Keep Severely Disabled Children in Local Schools
It seems like when a student goes into crisis, the first thing we do is refer him to someone else.” (Author unknown) Nontraditional, pro-active and cost-effective approaches exist within school districts to creatively meet the behavioral, academic and transitional needs of students with disabilities. What I and others term “wraparound service delivery” is a community-based solution for meeting the needs of behaviorally challenged students who are at risk of being placed outside the community in residential or foster home settings. The goal is to turn what resources we have into what the student needs. Resources are created and organized around the student, family and teacher. This collaborative process focuses on identifying the strengths of the student and his or her family and extended family. These strengths are used as the basis of the wraparound plan. Rather than sending the student to a placement away from his or her family and community, community-based services are wrapped around the student. The ultimate goal of wraparound is to turn our most frustrating challenges into our greatest successes. Kenny is one such success. At age 8, Kenny was posing a significant challenge to his teachers. His constant misbehavior resulted in two hospitalizations totaling eight months in a psychiatric children’s unit approximately 80 miles from home. When he returned to his home school with a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome, the disruptive behavior continued. He ate the dirt and grass on the playground—acting as if he was a dinosaur. Aggressive acts, attention deficit and hyperactivity resulted in the school district’s response—which was to send Kenny to an out-of-state residential facility. What the district wanted and what the family wanted were two different things. As Kenny’s mother stated, “For most of my child’s life, my husband and I felt like we were at war with professionals, not a helping relationship. It seemed like what we knew and wanted didn’t matter to them.” After much persistence on the part of the family and school, the Illinois Department of Mental Health agreed to allow the school district, Peru Elementary District 124 in Peru, Ill., to use its state funds (known as individual care grants) intended for a residential placement to wrap community-based services around Kenny. Rather than sending away Kenny to the distant services, the services were brought to Kenny. A plan was developed that would enable Kenny to stay in his home school with his family and community. Because wraparound services were a relatively new concept, the district recruited the technical assistance of Lucille Eber, a national expert on wraparound service delivery. She assisted the district with designing a plan that included the services of a respite worker for the parents, Youth Service Bureau support, afterschool tutoring, swimming lessons, social skills training and various other afterschool activities offered through the local park district and YMCA. This wraparound plan was initiated 10 years ago. Kenny, a lover of animals, snakes and insects, is now successfully working at an animal rescue facility and earning a paycheck. This spring, Kenny will walk across the stage of his community high school and receive his high school diploma with his lifelong peers. His goal is to go to college to study herpetology. His path to this point was not without roadblocks. Many revisions in services and changes of service providers occurred along the way. The success of the wraparound plan can be attributed to a school district that was willing to attempt a nontraditional, effective and cost-efficient approach to special education service delivery. It also can be attributed to a team that stayed focused on what was in the best interest of the student and most importantly to the partnership the school district forged with committed and caring parents. This successful wraparound not only saved taxpayer dollars, it also saved Kenny the trauma of being separated from his family. A cost comparison done in 1999 indicated a savings of approximately $63,000. The community-based services amounted to $12,000 compared to residential costs exceeding $74,000. Since 1999, residential costs have more than doubled as a recent annual cost estimate for a residential placement was over $150,000.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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