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by Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, Division for Blind Services

Abstract: this article discusses the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs and encourages parents and stakeholders to share input with Task Force members

Key Words: blind, visually impaired, children with special needs, DARS, DARS-Division for Blind Services, DBS, Early Childhood Intervention, ECI, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., SB 1824

The government works for you. It’s true. In the complexity and chaos of everyday life, and in the commotion and unruliness of modern politics, it may not seem like it. But it is true. You pay the bills. And now you have the chance to let the government hear your voice.

In the last legislative session, May of 2009 to be exact, with these words, “Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of Texas,” the legislature passed a bill that established the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs. The bill, introduced by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., and unanimously approved by the Texas Senate, aims to bring the necessary statewide coordina­tion and leadership to services for children with special health care needs and their families.

Senate Bill 1824 established an 18-member task force comprised of the heads of nine state agen­cies that serve this population, four legislators, three parents or consumer advocates, and one representative of a local Mental Health and Men-tal Retardation Authority. The bill requires the agency decision-makers, in collaboration with families and service providers, to identify barriers to service and to make recommendations that will improve the coordination, quality and efficiency of services for children with special needs. As the Assistant Commissioner of DARS-DBS, I am privileged to be on this Task Force, along with Kim Wedel, Assistant Commissioner of DARS­ECI.

The bill established eight subcommittees, each chaired and vice-chaired by one of the agency leaders: Early Childhood Detection and Interven­tion; Education; Health Care; Transitioning Youth; Crisis Prevention and Intervention; Juvenile Jus­tice; Mental Health; and Long-Term Community-Based Services and Supports. Kim Wedel and I are co-chairs of the Early Childhood Detection and Intervention subcom­mittee; I am also the vice-chair of the Transitioning Youth subcommittee.

What does this have to do with giving parents and stakeholders a voice in government? The bill and the Task Force have cre­ated several ways for ordi­nary citizens to have input into Task Force activities. First of all, a public hearing was held on February 17 in order to gather information to perform a needs assess­ment. A number of people spoke at the hearing, including physicians, par­ents, providers, consumers and former consum­ers. Parents spoke movingly of the barriers they have encountered in accessing services for their children, and providers spoke knowledgeably about barriers resulting from policy and proce­dural issues. Others expressed the challenges of accessing services across multiple agencies.

Many also articulated the need to implement positive behavioral supports and, as a result of these testimonies, the committee agreed to dedi­cate a portion of the March 23 meeting to discuss this topic and identify further action needed. The public is welcome to attend future Task Force meetings; details are posted on <www.hhsc.state.tx.us/about_hhsc/AdvisoryCommittees/TaskForce/MeetingDatesandMinutes.doc>.

Secondly, each subcommittee has eight to twelve members from the community. A total of 114 in­dividuals were nominated by agency personnel or the community-at-large, and 95 were selected. The selection was extremely competitive, as subcommittee members were expected to be parents or consumers or to have experience on relevant committees or councils, significant expertise in the subject matter, or representatives of not-for-profit groups that advocate on behalf of the service population. We are confident that these members will bring significant knowledge and expertise to the sub­committees.

All subcommittees will dis­cuss two cross-cutting top­ics: coordination and in­tegration of services and system entry points. Other topics, 100 and counting, have been submitted by citizens across the state— parents, stakeholders, ad­vocates, former consum­ers, current consumers—in other words, anyone who has an interest in services for children with special needs. These topics are reviewed and assigned to subcommittees. The Task Force encourages the public to continue submitting issues for subcommittee and Task Force consideration by completing a Subcom­mittee Topic Selection Form located on .

Lest you think that people will just sit around talk­ing, for every issue addressed the subcommit­tees are expected report back to the Task Force with an analysis of the topic. The analysis will include:

  • other subcommittees or councils that are exploring the issue;
  • a description of the current federal, state and community policies that impact the is-sue;
  • the current barriers to addressing the issue,
  • specific steps necessary to implement the recommendations.

If you would like to keep up with the business conducted by this Task Force, information can be located at <www.hhsc.state.tx.us/about_hhsc/AdvisoryCommittees/TaskForce.shtml>. These are topics that impact the lives of your children and your families every day. You can have an impact on the policies that affect you. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to have a voice in your government.