Resources for special needs families in Chester County
I work as a special education advocate and spend much time volunteering on related causes. I come into contact with many Chester County families, and many are not aware of some of the fantastic resources that are available. Whenever I am presenting workshops or working with clients, I often say, “If you have to live with special needs, be glad you live in Chester County.” It’s true—we have many options and resources available to us that many parts of the state do not have. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you.
Right to Education Task Force-Too many families in Chester County are not even aware that this opportunity exists, and it’s a great system set up only in Pennsylvania. The Right to Education Task Force was created in 1972 as part of the P.A.R.C. Consent Agreement that provided for a free, appropriate public education for children with mental retardation. In 1975, the Right to Education was extended by State regulations to include learning disabilities, physical handicaps, emotional difficulties and hearing, visual, speech, and language impairment. The purpose of the Local Task Force (LTF) is to assist in improving education for all school-age children with special needs. You can find out about monthly meetings at their website, and usually both day and evening times are offered. They have interesting and informative guest speakers, and the LTF assists with monitoring Special Education in all the districts.
The Monitoring Committee, made up of Task Force members, parents and other volunteers, participates in the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s compliance monitoring process by encouraging parent participation in a local task force monitoring process. The LTF monitoring occurs in your school district (every five years) just prior to the Commonwealth’s process and provides valuable parent feedback and information to the Commonwealth’s monitors. The Committee may visit classrooms where special education programs are conducted by local school districts, the Intermediate Unit and approved private schools. It reports to the Local Task Force at their meeting, outlining observations and recommendations.
I always share LTF information with families, as I feel it is one of the best and most underused resources that we have in Chester County.
Arc of Chester County-The Arc of Chester County was founded in 1952 by local parents who wanted to make lives better for their children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The group was originally known as The Association for Retarded Children then later The Association for Retarded Citizens. Now they are simply The Arc.
For over 60 years, the Arc has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of all people with disabilities in Chester County and beyond (there is an Arc of PA and Arc of USA also). They offer services for all ages, from birth to adult, and all types of disabilities—no longer just for intellectual disabilities. They have advocacy services, employment assistance and job coaches, special education, respite, life skills, recreation opportunities and so much more. If you are in need of assistance, call the Arc, they may be able to help.
NAMI Pennsylvania Chester County– It’s commonly referred to as “NAMI Chesco” and was founded in 1979 in order to help families living with mental illnesses. They offer support group meetings at three separate locations in the county (south, mid-county and north), education and information about mental illnesses, family-to-family mentoring programs, recreational activities, advocacy and more. Part of their mission is to make sure that families living with mental illness do not feel alone, so if you feel alone, go check them out.
CCIU-Many Chesco residents have driven past that big building on Boot Road in Downingtown, but few are aware of all that they have to offer. The Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) is a service provider for students in Chester County, and they also serve as a liaison or go-between between school districts and the State of Pennsylvania. Hence the term “intermediate unit.” Ours is one of the largest and best in Pennsylvania. They have dozens of classrooms and programs for children with special needs, at locations all over the county. They have job training for older students, special education and itinerant services for preschoolers, they operate the three locations of the Technical College High School so that high schoolers can learn vocational schools, educational services for children with mental illness and/or addiction issues and so much more. One of my favorite programs that they offer is called Aspire, which is designed for college-bound students, ages 17-20, in Chester County and neighboring areas, who have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder and/or a related mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar.
They have so many programs and services, and they are always changing with the intent of improving, so your home district may not even be aware of what they have to suit your child’s needs. If you’re having trouble finding a good fit for your child, work with your child’s team and the IU to perhaps find something that is more appropriate.
ADayInOurShoes– I couldn’t end this list without shamelessly plugging my own site. I am a certified Special Education Advocate and my blog is an off-shoot of my passion for helping families living with special needs. While my award-winning blog is nationally and internationally read, my heart belongs to Chester County so I focus many of my writings on topics in our region. Follow my site if you need IEP assistance or have an IEP question, want to learn about local, fun, recreational opportunities for our kids, or find a special education advocate to assist your family. I also have a weekly feature called “Tuesday To-Do List” where I give you easy action steps to become a more involved advocate and champion for causes that affect our families.
Well, hopefully you learned something that you can use for this post. Our lives are really hard sometimes as parents in a special needs family. There are resources out there, you just need to know where to look. Good luck and hope to see you on my site. Lisa Lightner lives in southern Chester County with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest of through her website linked above.