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AFC in the News

03.07.2023 | The Hechinger Report | Indeed, low-income Black and Latino children in New York City are much less likely to get timely early intervention services — or at all, according to a 2019 report from Advocates for Children of New York. Pacheco suspects that some therapists don’t want to come to her neighborhood because of inaccurate beliefs about high crime rates. “A lot of us parents like it to be in person, but a lot of these therapists don’t want to come out to the neighborhoods,” she said.  Read article

03.06.2023 | NY Daily News | Betty Baez Melo, who leads early-childhood work at Advocates for Children, called for a higher figure for in-person services because teletherapy, while critical during the pandemic, can cause a “two-tiered” system where some kids work with providers at home or in programs, while others receive help only online. 

“Getting physical therapy through telehealth can be more challenging,” she said, “and it requires really having an active parent so they’re learning through the provider remotely.” Read article

03.03.2023 | The Today Show | Maggie Moroff, senior special education policy coordinator for Advocates for Children of New York, says open communication between parents and school staff is vital, particularly for students who are neurodivergent or have disabilities. 

"It's easy to forget that the drills have real impact on the students," Moroff tells TODAY.com. "There needs to be more conversation, more dialogue, more understanding before and after that potential impact." Read article

02.28.2023 | Chalkbeat NY | “We’re at a point where thousands and thousands of children are waiting for services and in some cases never receiving their services,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, a group that has pushed for reforms to the Early Intervention system. “We’re seeing statewide systemic violations of children’s rights.” 

Advocates also contend that one source of ongoing service delays is that providers are continuing to lean on telehealth services even in cases where face-to-face support is needed. 

“We’re creating a two-tiered system,” said Betty Baez Melo, who directs the early childhood education project at Advocates for Children. She noted that families in low-income communities have struggled to get access to providers who are willing to provide in-person services and argues the state should create financial incentives to encourage face-to-face services, a move supported by city officials. Read article

02.27.2023 | NY Daily News | The pandemic only exacerbated rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among youth that were already on the rise. A recent national poll by Effective School Solutions found that 90% of school administrators say the youth mental health crisis is growing.

Derrick was a bright, warm 15-year-old who started experiencing debilitating anxiety and depression, and increasingly avoided going to school. Although his mother desperately tried to find him the mental health care he needed, no one — including his school — was able to help. Eventually, Derrick’s mother called our Education Helpline, where we hear from family after family how difficult it is to find their children the mental health support they need.

For children and youth like Derrick, schools provide the best opportunity to connect them with the supports and mental health services they require. Research shows that students are 21 times more likely to seek support for mental health issues at school than at a community-based clinic. According to the School-Based Health Alliance, of students who successfully engage in mental health treatment, more than 70% initiated services through school. Data also indicates that school-based mental health services reduce racial disparities in access to mental health care.

When Mental Health America recently asked young people what mental health supports they need, “access to mental health professionals at school” was among the top resources they requested. This matches what education leaders are saying. In a survey of New York school superintendents since the pandemic, 90% indicated that schools have taken on a larger role in supporting student mental health, and 81% said that schools have become the main source of mental health services for young people. Yet, in response to a survey conducted by Citizens’ Committee for Children of NY during the pandemic, only 42% of young people who reported a need for mental health services said they received them.

At Advocates for Children of New York, we know from our work with thousands of families how crucial school-based behavioral and mental health services are for students, particularly those with significant needs. The right services can mean the difference between healing and learning in school — versus unabated and potentially escalating emotional distress, disrupted learning, removal from class, suspension from school, or even police intervention, including handcuffing and transport to a hospital psychiatric emergency room when medically unnecessary.

We cannot punish or police our way out of our youth mental health crisis. These responses do nothing to address the root causes of student behavior; rather, they reduce the time spent in class learning, and correlate with poor academic outcomes, decreased likelihood of graduating, and increased likelihood of entering the juvenile or criminal legal system.

There are promising solutions, like the innovative interagency initiatives that tap into the richness of community and engage parents, students, and experts as partners. Two such initiatives currently being implemented in NYC merit additional attention and investment:

First, the Mental Health Continuum is a promising model recently highlighted in the NYC Speaks Action Plan. It is the first-ever crossagency partnership between the Department of Education, NYC Health + Hospitals, and the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to help students struggling with mental health challenges access timely mental health care.

It will support students at 50 high-needs schools through mental health clinics, expedited access to evaluation and treatment, support for crisis response, and culturally responsive family engagement. Unfortunately, the city only allocated funding for the Mental Health Continuum for one year; unless the funding for this critical initiative is extended, it will expire this June — just when it is starting to get off the ground. It is imperative that the city baseline funding for this initiative.

Second, NYC’s new Path program aims to disrupt the historical segregation of Black and Brown students labeled with emotional disabilities in separate special education settings, and instead promote the successful inclusion of these students in schools with their peers without disabilities.

Path includes small class sizes, support from social workers and occupational therapists, trauma-informed practices, and greater collaboration among families and school staff. Even though the city has pledged funding for expansion, Path will be limited to students in early elementary school grades. It should be made accessible to middle and high school students with additional funding.

All signs indicate that it is more urgent than ever that we prioritize the mental health needs of our children and young people. To do so, we must make substantial, sustained investments in creative, collaborative, and community-based models with school-based behavioral and mental health services for students. Our city’s young people are counting on us.

Kim Sweet is executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. Dawn Yuster is director of AFC’s School Justice Project.

Read the op-ed

02.24.2023 | Chalkbeat NY | “It is very disappointing that the money that was allocated for desperately needed services by children and adolescents is not getting to them,” said Dawn Yuster, director of the School Justice Project at Advocates for Children. “There is a lot of trauma, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations that we continue to hear about from family after family.” 

As calls grew nationally to address a youth mental health crisis fueled by widespread loss and grief from the pandemic, Hochul proposed last January to add $100 million to the state budget for this fiscal year, which runs from April 1, 2022 to this upcoming March 31, and touted the money in a press release when it made it into the final budget. 

At the time of Hochul’s proposal, students had returned to campuses full time for the first time since the pandemic. Many educators had reported students struggling with behavioral, social, and mental health issues. Social workers and counselors reported being inundated with student referrals.

In New York City, one in every 200 children has lost a caregiver to COVID. More than 40% of students nationally reported feeling persistent sadness in 2021, compared to about 25% ten years before that, according to a recently released survey. 

It’s possible many districts are still busy spending billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid, potentially making this grant less of a need at the moment, advocates said. 

Still, districts likely would have jumped at the money had it been available, Lowry said. Those matching funds could have helped districts launch or expand initiatives that they’d already been working on, such as New York City’s pilot effort to pour more mental health resources into 50 high-need schools in order to minimize the use of police intervention, Yuster said. 

 Read article

02.20.2023 | NY Daily News | “There are a lot of reasons why a child doesn’t want to go to school, and one of those is the feeling of hopelessness and anxiety of falling behind academically,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, the director of the Immigrant Students’ Rights Project at Advocates for Children. “English learners during the pandemic didn’t get the services they were supposed to get, so it was hard for them to return to school and be engaged,” she added. Read article

02.08.2023 | NY Daily News | Meanwhile, than a dozen critical education initiatives are vulnerable to cutbacks or elimination after federal stimulus runs out and the city hits a so-called fiscal cliff, from preschool programs to social workers, according to a brief from Advocates for Children released last month.

The city has been slowly waning schools off the temporary funds, from roughly $3 billion last year to $2 billion this year and $1 billion next, an education finance official testified. Read article

02.03.2023 | Chalkbeat NY | A class action lawsuit seeking to force New York City to expedite makeup services to students with disabilities has been revived by an appeals court, according to a ruling released Friday. 

The ruling reverses a lower court’s decision last year to dismiss the case. 

The lawsuit, filed in November 2020 by Advocates for Children, claims thousands of city students missed out on crucial services as the city struggled to distribute remote learning devices and provide adequate instruction after officials shut down school buildings during the pandemic. Other services, such as physical therapy, were extremely difficult to deliver remotely. 

Students with disabilities are entitled to compensatory services if their school doesn’t provide the therapies or specialized instruction listed on their individualized education program, or IEP. If schools don’t agree to provide extra services, families can file what’s known as a due process complaint and go through an administrative legal process. 

But in New York City, that system has experienced an explosion of due process complaints and faces a backlog of thousands of cases. In previous years, cases have dragged on for hundreds of days, beyond the 75-day legal limit. (City and state officials did not offer updated figures on how long cases are taking to resolve, though they recently sought a contract to hire outside lawyers to respond to cases.) 

Advocates for Children’s lawsuit argues that the city must create a streamlined process for adjudicating families’ requests for makeup services, as the current process has broken down and would be too burdensome and time consuming for families to navigate. 

A federal district judge rejected that argument last March, noting that none of the families who brought the lawsuit had attempted to use the existing process. The judge, Andrew L. Carter Jr., ruled that families needed to exhaust the existing process before bringing a federal lawsuit. But on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned that decision, sending the case back to the lower court.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling and think it is the right decision,” said Rebecca Shore, the litigation director for Advocates for Children. “We hope that the DOE will create a system without engaging in prolonged litigation because students with disabilities in New York City have been without these compensatory services since 2020.” Read article

02.02.2023 | NY Daily News | “The numbers continue to tick up a little bit from year to year, but we’re still seeing broad disparities,” said Juliet Eisenstein, a staff attorney at Advocates for Children who sits on a state commission tasked with reviewing state graduation measures. 

Roughly nine out of 10 Asian-American and white city school kids graduated within four years, compared to eight in 10 of their Black and Hispanic peers, state data show.

“Students with disabilities, English language learners, students who are in foster care or homeless, they still are greatly lagging behind their peers in graduation rates,” she added. 

Less than two-thirds of NYC students with disabilities graduated within four years, shares that grew slightly when they were given more time to earn a diploma, according to the state. English learners earned diplomas on time at a similar rate, while just 70% of students in temporary housing graduated within that time frame. Read article