Welcome to another post of The ABCs of IEPs. Today is J is for Juvenile Justice System. It’s a depressing topic, honestly, but one that I am VERY passionate about. Kids with IEPs (or those needing but not having IEPs) are quite over-represented in the juvenile justice system. We have to change this. Have to have to have to. I unfortunately know that many parents will read this post and be nodding your heads and saying, “yep, that’s us.” But time, work constraints, money, shame, embarrassment and many other factors keep you from advocating and speaking up about this. You just do what you gotta do to keep your family going, day to day, right?
Must read: Arc of USA Juvenile-Justice-White-Paper
First of all, I can give you many scenarios–like a 7-year-old boy who was a client (ADHD and reading disability), he had some rocks in his pocket on the playground. He didn’t want to give up those rocks…so the school called 911 and next thing I know, I have a panicked mom on the phone because her 7-year-old is in handcuffs.
It is no longer unusual for me to hear about kindergarteners being suspended and preschoolers being expelled from preschools for behaviors. When preschoolers face expulsion rather than support in our society…we have truly lost our way.
But anecdotes don’t mean much, so here’s some data for you to chew on, as far as kids with IEPs and the Juvenile Justice System:
- 65-75% of all children/youth in the Juvenile Justice System have a disability of some kind. (Keep in mind, those same kids only make up about 20% of society.) (ARC of USA white paper)
- A person on the autism spectrum is 7x more likely to have a negative encounter with law enforcement than someone not on the spectrum.
- people with mental illnesses are over represented in probation and parole populations at estimated rates ranging from two to four times the general population” (Prins and Draper, 2009).
- between 25-40% of Americans with mental illness will at some point in their lifetime, pass through the criminal justice system (NAMI).
- 75% of our prison population is functionally illiterate, 20% wholly illiterate.
- Children with ED are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving school, when compared to all other students
- For children with ED who drop out of school, 73 percent are arrested within five years (Wrightslaw)
I could go on and on, posting statistic after statistic, report after report about the state of affairs. And then we all cry and go hide under a rock.
The school to prison pipeline is alive and well folks. And depending on your kid’s demographics, your district may have his seat reserved. And again, I love teachers and schools, sometimes they just see kids a certain way…and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our society makes it much easier to be the ‘bad kid’ instead of the ‘dumb kid’ so a student struggling to learn may just enjoy the attention of acting out. And it’s an escape from the school work he doesn’t understand. It just snowballs very quickly.
So, what can a parent do? Lots actually. It will take time and energy and continued effort…but you can overcome this. I have seen determined moms do this, you can too.
Tips for keeping your kid out of the Juvenile Justice System or off the school-to-prison pipeline:
- If your child has been subjected to any type of trauma, learn about Trauma and Education. It’s a huge buzz word right now getting lots of attention, as it should. Many times when a child has been subjected to trauma (and that can really be anything-verbal and emotional abuse, death of family member, not having food/money/homelessness, etc.) it will manifest itself as ED or ODD or some other mental illness.
- Stay involved. Know who their friends are. Know what they are doing after school.
- Be PROactive. Take your child to the local police station(s). Introduce him or her around, talk to them about your child’s disability and the sometimes negative behaviors associated with it.
- Some community agencies have free or low-cost assistance to parents, to help them navigate the Juvenile Justice System. Ask around and see if some agency in your community offers one.
- Keep on top of the IEP and their learning. A child who is being supported and learning and having success is much less likely to act out.
- Keep your school paperwork and files updated. Update your contact information. Keep it all current so that if your child skips a class or an entire day, you can be reached.
- Be specific about their behavior plan or make sure that they have a thorough behavior plan.
- Be specific about the crisis plan–have YOU listed as who to contact in a crisis, NOT the police. Be very specific in which scenarios the school will contact 911. And an IEP, which is a FEDERAL document, can overrule a school district policy. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.
- Get behavior services for your child out of school. Teach them to deal with every day things-exclusion, seclusion, rejection, mocking…they do not need to respond with violence. Even a seemingly routine fight between a few 17 or 18-year-olds can result in felonies. They need to know dispute resolution.
- Find your school’s parent group for kids with disabilities, join a local group of some kind. There is power in numbers.
- Read about Restorative Justice. For the juvenile system, justice is supposed to be restorative, not punitive. Unfortunately that is often not the case. You may have to be a leader in this area. Know it, learn it and introduce it to your district.
- Stay abreast of your district’s discipline policies, the IEP process, and Manifestation Hearings. Make sure your child is getting what they are entitled to, and not being treated differently than their non-disabled peers.
- File Office of Civil Rights complaints if your child is being treated differently (more severe punishment) than their non-disabled peers.
- Any age is susceptible–I never dreamed I’d hear of 7-year-olds in handcuffs, but I’ve seen it. Don’t think you have until they are a teenager to learn this stuff. Learn now.
- Get involved in advocacy and lobbying in this area to create change. Whether it’s the Arc or NAMI, find your group and advocate! Our kids need it!
- If your child does end up getting arrested, please find a Criminal Defense attorney who specializes in working with people with disabilities. I know some of you might be saying, “I can’t afford that.” I’m telling you: You can’t afford not to. Do a fundraiser, do whatever it takes to get the proper representation.
- Hold a workshop, a training, whatever…in your community, so that local law enforcement is familiar with disabilities.
Take the time to learn this stuff. This certainly is a knowledge base that I wish I didn’t have to have…but I do. So I do it.