Delaware Autism Program Students Need Residential Options #DAP

Autism Delaware’s position paper: HERE.

Delaware Autism Program Students
Need Residential Options

The Director of the Delaware Autism Program (DAP) has announced plans to close the
school’s residential program after 25 years and replace it with after-school programs,
evening respite and temporary emergency beds. These three homes in Newark are
educational facilities that enable up to fifteen students a night from all over the state to
learn critical life skills and work on IEP goals in a home setting. They were initially
designed for short term placements with a parent training component so that students
could successfully transition back home. Over time the service offerings of the DAP
group homes have evolved, sometimes providing long term placement, transition to
adult group homes, respite to families, and/or a safe place for students to reside when
their families could not best care for them. The Director has stated that he intends to
close the homes due to liability concerns and management difficulties and his belief that
residential services should not be provided by school districts. Autism Delaware shares
the Director’s safety concerns, but believes that residential services are a school
obligation and the homes should not be closed unless sufficient alternatives are made
available to students in Delaware.

We support students’ rights under federal law to residential services. Regulations
pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 state that “If placement in a
public or private residential program is necessary to provide a free and appropriate
education to a handicapped person because of his or her handicap, the program,
including non-medical care and room and board, shall be provided at no cost to the
person or his or her parents or guardian.” The Individuals with Disabilities in Education
Act regulations include a similar requirement. This clearly makes it an educational
responsibility. IDEA also requires students be served in the least restrictive
environment, but closing the homes would force some students into out-of-state
placements. We believe this should be a last resort for only the most severely affected
students that need to be in facilities that offer specialized services.

We support modification of existing supports, not their elimination. Management
and safety issues call for redress, not closure. The Office of the Director and the
Delaware Department of Education are committed by a 2004 Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) to cooperate in getting the homes licensed, which has not yet
been done. In the meantime, student and staff safety must be addressed through a
professional inspection to ensure it meets state standards. If the Office of the Director
lacks the resources to manage the homes as required by the MOU, then the district
should arrange for a contracted provider rather than close the homes.
We support more cost-effective solutions than closure. One of the key benefits of
the program is that in some cases, it eliminates the need for expensive out-of-state
placements. Currently, the only in-state alternative is Delaware’s AdvoServ, which costs
the state over $100,000 a year per child. It is more cost effective to either invest in staff
training and licensing, or contract with a qualified provider to operate the homes. In
addition, reinstating parent training to help students return home would benefit families
while reducing the financial burden.

We oppose such a significant change in public service without a more open
public process. Though the closure plan has not yet been approved, new placements
have stopped and current students are now being phased out, bringing an end to a
much needed service without providing an appropriate substitute. Families whose
children are self-injurious, unable to perform basic self-care, faced with multiple
disabilities, or who simply are not able to meet the needs of their child are being shut
out. Affected families and their advocates must be included as decisions are being
made concerning the group homes.

We support returning residential services to their original purpose.

The homes were established as a way to keep students close to their families and
provide short-term residential services while training parents to support their child’s
learning. The need for such services is even greater today as the incidence of autism
has grown. As there are more students in need of the homes’ services than there is
room to accommodate them, Autism Delaware supports expansion and appropriate
funding of services to ensure that all students receive the necessary services to which
they are legally entitled.