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Battling Bullies (New Jersey)

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

The 12-year old daughter of a Bergen County, New Jersey family was struggling. The school’s failure to stop the chronic bullying of their daughter resulted in her refusing to attend school. Despite clear mental health and cognitive issues, the school had not identified her as needing special education services.

SPAN’s peer Family Resource Specialist (FRS) was contacted by the behavioral health agency that was trying to help the daughter and her family by providing crisis counseling and conducting a psychiatric evaluation which had revealed that she had depression, a mood disorder, an eating disorder, and possible ADHD and OCD. The FRS met with staff of the behavioral health agency to discuss the girl’s situation.

The peer FRS learned that the 12-year old had experienced bullying for years in elementary and middle school. Although the school had been informed about the bullying many times, the parents say that the school never took the parents’ statements seriously and didn’t take action to resolve the problems. Their daughter’s grades plummeted, her anxiety increased, and she began cutting herself. The district finally agreed to conduct an evaluation to determine special education eligibility. The peer FRS then met with the girl’s parents, both of whom had a good understanding of their daughter’s needs and were eager to more effectively advocate on her behalf.

The mother, from Peru, had some challenges with the English language, while the father was proficient in English. The peer FRS discussed the special education process and the family’s rights in that process, as well as the New Jersey Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB)Law. The FRS helped the parents understand how to request all of the HIB reports and incorporate them into the IEP process. The peer FRS also connected the family to the support services offered by their county Special Child Health Services Case Management Unit, as well as the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund to cover their large unpaid medical bills.

By the end of the meeting, the parents reported feeling calmer and more confident; they understood the special education process and timelines, as well as the laws and regulations related to New Jersey’s bullying and harassment. The peer FRS also helped them think through what supports and services their daughter might need to recover from the bullying and harassment she was continuing to experience and how they might access those services.

The peer FRS told the parents about SPAN’s wrap-around services, from individual assistance to workshops, and from Parent to Parent peer support to support groups. The peer FRS also explained how these services and resources would provide them with the opportunity to build on their advocacy skills and empower them. The family expressed their gratitude for the peer support they had already received and the availability of the peer FRS and other SPAN services to help them in the future.

When the peer FRS followed up a few weeks later, she learned that their daughter was found eligible for special education and that an IEP had been developed that included positive behavioral supports, and that the school was finally addressing the long-time bullying and harassment. Because of the peer FRS’s support, a family in crisis was educated and empowered to change the quality of their daughter’s life and the trajectory of her future.

#FamilyPeerSupport #NFFCMH #SPANParentAdvocacy

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