Youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system face hurdles in accessing education. Schools often refer to the system without identifying a student’s need for special education services or providing the right academic and behavior supports. Estimates indicate that anywhere from 65-85% of students in the juvenile justice system have a disability and likely require services to be successful in school, yet many are not receiving those services.
Unfortunately, research shows that youth involved with the juvenile justice system who don’t have good education outcomes don’t have good life outcomes.
But a new partnership between Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) is changing the life course for youth in the system. This program offers a unique opportunity for these young people to receive education advocacy services they desperately need but would likely not otherwise know existed.
One young person we have helped through the partnership is Trevon, a teenager with bi-polar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other mental health diagnoses. He was arrested and placed on probation during his sophomore year. Though his mother was a strong advocate for Trevon, she found it challenging to understand all the jargon and navigate the juvenile justice system in order to get the services her son needed. When a juvenile probation officer referred Trevon to DRTx education specialist Danielle, she used her many years of experience as a special education diagnostician to successfully advocate for Trevon. As a result, he continued his education and invited Danielle to be in the audience as he received his high school diploma. Trevon is now working in a retail position and is saving money to be able to attend culinary college or trade school.
Since accepting our first referral in January 2016, DRTx has provided advocacy services to more than 1,200 youth who are now receiving the educational services they need to succeed in life.
Through our individual casework, we have been able to identify pervasive systemic issues within school districts and consult with them so they can make policy changes that provide youth with appropriate educational services and minimize referrals to the justice system. And, with a new law in Texas that we helped draft and pass that requires schools to hold transition meetings for students returning from the juvenile facilities and disciplinary alternative education programs, we attend these meetings and help assess and advocate for the youth’s educational needs to increase the likeliness of graduation.