At ALLY “A Life Like Yours” Advocacy Center, our team works tirelessly to give a voice to disability advocacy issues at the local, state, and national levels. This includes building strong relationships and collaborating with groups like other non-profits and even some government agencies. Everything we do is to ensure that individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) receive the opportunities, services, and programming they need to succeed.
Below are a few of the exciting things going on in the advocacy world:
Presiding Judge Holds Hearing in Richmond
Background: In August 2008, The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated an investigation of Central Virginia Training Center (CVTC) pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). In April 2010, DOJ notified the Commonwealth that it was expanding its investigation to focus on Virginia’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead ruling. The Olmstead decision requires that individuals be served in the most integrated settings appropriate to meet their needs consistent with their choice. In February 2011, DOJ submitted a findings letter to Virginia, concluding that the Commonwealth fails to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
In March 2011, upon advice and counsel from the Office of the Attorney General, Virginia entered into negotiations with DOJ in an effort to reach a settlement without subjecting the Commonwealth to an extremely costly and lengthy court battle with the federal government. On January 26, 2012, Virginia and DOJ reached a settlement agreement. The agreement resolves DOJ’s investigation of Virginia’s training centers and community programs and the Commonwealth’s compliance with the ADA and Olmstead with respect to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
On April 23, 2019 Judge John Gibney held a public hearing on the state of the Department of Justice vs. Virginia Settlement Agreement. The agreement began in 2012 and was intended to last for ten years. Over the course of that time, Virginia had to make a number of improvements to the way people with developmental disabilities are served in the state. Every six months, an Independent Reviewer assesses Virginia’s progress with the Agreement’s provisions.
The April hearing was focused on determining how to ensure Virginia was in compliance with the agreement for a full year prior to the planned end of the 10 year period, thus ensuring total compliance with the terms of the settlement.
Here are our top ten highlights from the hearing:
- The Department of Justice and Virginia agree that there are more than 70 provisions in the agreement in which Virginia is in compliance.
- The Department of Justice feels Virginia is out of compliance with 54 of the agreement’s provisions, while Virginia feels they are out of compliance with only 39 provisions. Most of the discrepancies are due to the fact that Virginia feels they have recently come into compliance with a number of provisions that the Independent Reviewer and Department of Justice have not yet seen through evidence.
- Case management was repeatedly highlighted as a “backbone” of our service system and a critical component of DD services.
- Virginia feels its greatest successes are the creation of new Waiver slots, the closure of three training centers, the plan to close a fourth training center and downsize the fifth to 75 people, an increase in crisis response and prevention services, and growth in case management.
- Virginia feels the area in which the most growth is needed is with quality management and they have a number of staff and data collection plans in place to tackle this need.
- Virginia is working hard to revise our Individual and Family Supports Program, to increase the stock of providers serving people with complex needs, to grow a family mentoring program, and to increase employment options.
- Judge Gibney clearly stated that even after the settlement agreement is over, the injunction against Virginia will not be lifted. Thus, Virginia will not have free reign to do whatever it wishes.
- Judge Gibney made it very clear that Virginia needed to be in compliance with all provisions by June 30, 2020 and to maintain that compliance for a year to meet the conditions of the agreement.
- Judge Gibney stated that any progress made under the agreement should remain after the agreement has ended, and that systems should be in place to prevent any erosion of that progress.
- Within six months, the state and DOJ should decide on final metrics and timelines for measuring compliance with the thus unmet provisions of the settlement agreement. It is unclear if another public forum will be held at that time.
“The term inclusion captures, in one word, an all-embracing societal ideology. Regarding individuals with disabilities and special education, inclusion secures opportunities for students with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms…” from www.specialeducationguide.com
At ALLY, which stands for “A Life Like Yours” we are constantly looking for gaps in services in the community and work to remedy that. We want to look at inclusion outside of the school classroom and look at the extra-curriculars, the leisure activities, the clubs and teams that are already inclusive, and ones that are not – that could possibly be changed!
At ALLY Advocacy Center, we repeatedly hear parents worry about what happens to their child if they have an outburst in school or in other public places. What happens if they have a tantrum or inadvertently break a law they do not understand. Or, if the person with a disability feels unsafe and their caregiver is not there. The question of “What happens when the police are called?” has always caused anxiety. Sadly, Virginia has recently been ranked #1 in the nation in school-based arrests, with children with disabilities disproportionately represented. We have seen what happens when the worst case scenario becomes reality—a person with a disability interacts with law enforcement and ends up arrested and in jail. Once people with disabilities end up in the justice system—arrested, jailed, or committed—it is tragic.
At ALLY, we have started to think PREVENTION! As a result, the PILE initiative was created to approach this issue with a multi-faceted approach. We are focusing on: law enforcement training, parent training, developing safety curriculum for students with disabilities in school, training for adults with disabilities in the community, training for lawyers in the criminal justice system, and increased training for all First Responders.
Our latest step involves training the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office 911 Dispatchers. Sergeant Linda Cerniglia explains the collaboration, “We partnered up with The Arc of Loudoun about 18 months ago. We run our CIT [Crisis Intervention Team] Deputies through The Arc, we have a guest speaker talking about what autism is and we are currently doing 911 dispatcher training – so that our law enforcement officers actually know how to react when they see someone with autism. Education is power. The more the law enforcement learns the better response we can give to citizens of Loudoun County.”
Two programs at The Arc of Loudoun: ALLY Advocacy Center and The Aurora School have been integral in designing curricula for students with autism and other developmental disabilities, training materials for families and law enforcement. Kendra McDonald, Program Director at The Aurora School says, “We are teaching our students at The Aurora School at The Arc of Loudoun how to interact with law enforcement officers and now we are teaching law enforcement on our students and ways to try to get information from our students. For example, our students are learning how to respond and convey their basic information such as their name, phone number and address, whether they are able to talk about it or whether they use sign language, their iPads, pictures or some kind of identification on them. And we are teaching the law enforcement officers how to seek out that information from people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.”
To help this charge, The Arc of Loudoun is pleased to announce it has received $50,000 from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation to help jump start the program. We also received a $2,000 Pathways to Justice™ grant from its national organization, The Arc of the U.S. Created by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD) in 2013, Pathways to Justice is a first-of-its kind training initiative. It strives to form strong and lasting partnerships between criminal justice and disability professionals that address service gaps encountered by people with disabilities and their families within the criminal justice arena. We have formed the county’s first Disability Response Team (DRT) to help coordinate a multidisciplinary training and be the point of contact when these types of cases come into the system. The members of the DRT include representatives from: the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Juvenile Detention Center, The Department of Juvenile Probation, The Public Defender’s Office, Family Advocates, Self-Advocates and Disability Advocates.
In May 2018, The Arc of Loudoun hosted a free training called, Pathways to Justice. Located at Ida Lee Recreation Center in Leesburg, Virginia, this training is for those working in the criminal justice system, including: law enforcement, attorneys, victim/witness services, disability advocates and families.