The answer is “yes” and “no.” The lives of parents caring for adult children with disabilities is already burdensome, and this change in the law adds an additional barrier such parents will have to overcome, but it will not bar them from obtaining the payments they may be entitled to.
New Jersey passed a law last year that takes effect next month – February 2017 – that may disrupt payments from an ex-spouse that are necessary to care for a child with disabilities. Under the former law, the State provides strong enforcement action under its “Probation” department, that could include wage garnishment and even potential incarceration.
The new law ends any and all “child support” obligations in divorced families once the child reaches the age of 23. Thus, the State will no longer provide probation enforcement beyond the child’s 23rd birthday. This applies to a child with disabilities in the same manner as to any other child. Custodial parents whose children are now approaching the age of 23 will now receive a notice from the State designating the upcoming birth date as the date upon which the support payment obligations that they have been relying will end.
However, custodial Parents of children with special needs who require such support should not panic. And non-custodial parents who are now required to provide such support should not be misled into thinking they can now abandon those obligations.
Instead, the statute recognizes that persons with disabilities may require financial “maintenance” beyond age 23 and that parents of such persons may be responsible to provide financial “maintenance” as long as necessary for such children. The big difference beyond the semantics of “child support” vs “maintenance” is that the probation department will not address or enforce “maintenance,” and custodial parents will instead have to seek such payments by way of an additional process in Family Court.
Such additional process can result in a Court Order requiring the noncustodial parent to provide “maintenance” payments, and those payments may (or may not) be in the same amount as the previous “child support” payments. Once such an Order is obtained, the child or custodial parent will have access to the enforcement powers attendant with any Court Order, but will no longer be able to rely on the exceptional enforcement powers of the Probation department. (A link to the new statute can be found here: http://www.njchildsupport.org/getattachment/Services-Programs/Custodial-Parents/Termination/Emancipation/Termination-of-Child-Support-Public-Law-2015,-Chapter-223_.pdf.aspx)
If you are a divorced parent who has a child with a disability who is approaching or over the age of 23, you should consult with a knowledgeable attorney as to the impact this new law may have on your rights and obligations.
The U.S. Department of Education recently released a “Dear Colleague” Letter to clarify that all students who qualify, or would qualify, in their neighborhood school District for either an IEP under the I.D.E.A., or a Section 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act – have the exact same rights for services if they attend a Public Charter School.
Therefore, if your child is enrolled in a Public Charter School, she has the same rights to special education services and/or accommodations in the charter school as she would have if she was enrolled in the general public school in her District. Such rights run the gamut of varying special needs and disabilities, including but not limited to learning deficits, reading difficulties, autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, behavioral disabilities, and psychological disabilities.
Although these laws have always applied to Public Charter Schools, some charter school Administrations do not understand their obligations under these laws, and have misinformed parents of their children’s corresponding rights.
You can use the Department’s clarifying letter to help you obtain services if you run into an Administrator who is telling you that the obligations of the Charter school are in any way less or different from any other public school. That letter can be found here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201612-504-charter-school.pdf
Two other documents from the Department of Education that may also be helpful are: (1) an FAQ on Section 504 and Public Charter Schools issued by the US Office of Civil Rights, which can be found here — www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-faq-201612-504-charterschool.pdf; and (2) an FAQ by the same Office concerning the I.D.E.A. and Public charter schools, which can be found here — www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/faq-idea-charter-school.pdf
If your child qualifies for services under either statute, or if you even suspect that she might qualify for such services – the fact that she attends a Public Charter School should not deter you from obtaining the services that she needs. These laws provide powerful tools and, if necessary, an attorney with knowledge of these laws and how they apply can bring these schools to meet their obligations for your child.
Another sad reminder in the news, that caregivers of people with disabilities cannot presume that authority personnel will listen to or understand the caregiver’s guidance on how best to deal with a person’s disabilities.
This sad story (linked below) involved a teenager who is described as having paralysis, being partially deaf and blind, and subject to cognitive confusion. When she didn’t understand that TSA wanted to scan her again, they grabbed her, she resisted — and they smashed her face as they threw her to the ground, and then arrested her for non-compliance. All the while her horrified Mother was trying to explain to the authorities that her daughter didn’t understand what was being asked of her. Instead of hearing the Mom, the police held her back during the incident.
We routinely see stories like this in the news, I wrote about one some time back involving the death of a young man with Downs Syndrome in front of his care worker at the hands of two movie security guards — all because he wanted to see a movie again and didn’t understand why they were insisting he leave. Things escalated quickly despite the caregiver trying to tell the guards how to calm everything down.
Caregivers for people who may not understand or quickly comply when given orders need a very clear action plan in place for potential conflicts with authority figures. We should assume that they will not be as open to our guidance as we might imagine, and we need to be well rehearsed in case of a confrontation. I am not in anyway blaming this Mother, but perhaps had she alerted some of the TSA workers to her daughter’s issues before they got into the security line, the workers would have been more open to hearing the Mom when they encountered some non-compliance from the daughter.
It is a good idea to have a well-thought out plan, perhaps even something in writing, to give guidance when necessary. Events like these are a caregiver’s worst nightmare.
I’ve posted about such incidents before, but another one has hit the national news.
The facts as alleged seem sadly typical: A student is repeatedly bullied over a long period of time by a group of students; the bullying is reported to the School District, which takes some action, but their action does not curtail the ongoing bullying; the targeted child kills herself.
Again I reiterate to all who may read my blogs the importance of both reporting incidents of bullying to school personnel and keeping a record of such reports, and following up with school personnel to ensure action is taken and that the action is effective. Far too often we raise these issues to the schools as isolated events, rather than presenting to them the larger picture of ongoing bullying over an extended time period.
Here is a link to the horrible story as reported in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/23/after-years-of-alleged-bullying-an-ohio-teen-killed-herself-is-her-school-district-responsible/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_most-draw6
As often is the case, the School District in this instance is first responding to the Complaint by arguing several procedural reasons as to why they should not be held liable. Hopefully, this case will advance past those hurdles and be decided on the actual merits.
One especially egregious alleged fact is that after the suicide, the School District actually sent out notices to all the parents in the District claiming that the suicide was not related to any bullying. Guilty conscience?
Remember that children with Special Needs are especially prone to being targeted at school for malicious behavior due to their lower social status in the school community as compared to other students. Because of the greater vulnerability of students with disabilities, the impact can also be significantly more harmful.