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Calls to Action

Your Dollars @ Work: Essential Legal Advocacy for Children with Autism

The below post is written by Ericka Garcia, Developmental Disabilities Attorney with the Guardian ad Litem Program, part of the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc.

Although my brother doesn’t have autism, he has an intellectual disability, and as a family we struggle with the same issues that everyone else does. My family has a lot of support, while some of the foster youth I assist, simply do not.  I believe it is paramount that the children and youth I work with understand they have a voice, and that it is my job to make sure they are heard. I feel privileged to help them achieve their dreams.  Through the Autism Caregivers Education (ACE) project, I’m working to empower not only the youth, but the families, biological, foster and/or pre-adoptive parents, who need guidance in advocating and accessing services for their child.  

The Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc. of Orlando, Florida is extremely honored to be a recipient of a generous $25,000 grant from the 2013 Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grants Program.

The Legal Aid Society’s Guardian ad Litem Program advocates for children who have been removed from their parents or caregivers and placed in foster care/out of home care due to abuse, abandonment or neglect. Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of abuse, abandonment or neglect than other children. Through the Autism Caregivers Education (ACE) project, we’re effectuating system-wide improvement for our youth with autism by providing ongoing training and specific support for each child and their family.  The amount of interest shown by Orange County Bar attorneys and caregivers to better serve youth with autism was nothing short of electrifying! 

Specific training is necessary to ensure that Guardians ad Litem (GALs), caretakers, parents of dependent children, and child welfare professionals not only appropriately identify the need for special education evaluations, but also advocate for such necessary services, and then secure them. It is the intent of the ACE project to assist dependency professionals in establishing meaningful educational implements for children with autism that will have a positive impact on youth far beyond the life of their dependency cases.

"Specific training is necessary to ensure that Guardians ad Litem, caretakers, parents of dependent children, and child welfare professionals not only appropriately identify the need for special education evaluations, but also advocate for such necessary services, and then secure them."

Legal Aid’s first ACE training,  entitled “Essential Legal Advocacy for Youth with Autism: Beyond Dependency Court,” was held on January 14, 2014. Attended by nearly thirty volunteer attorneys, caregivers, and professional staff who work to improve the lives of foster youth with autism, the training taught basic strategies for best interest representation of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as discussed the essential services available to foster youth with autism. Members of our local Autism Speaks Orlando joined us to share real-life perspectives on best serving children with autism. Click here to view the Power Point presentation from our first training. Below is a silde from the training for Guardian Ad Litems (GALs):

We can’t wait until our next group training, scheduled for March 4!

If you have any questions about the program, feel free to contact me at egarcia@legalaidocba.org.

Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here.