GREAT BARRINGTON -- When a struggling child has no family member or guardian to speak for them, they need someone else who can.
The Recruitment Training and Support Center at The Federation for Children with Special Needs will beat the Eagleton School in Great Barrington this coming Saturday to host orientation and training for volunteers who want to help.
The program is designed to train people to be special education surrogate parents (SESPs). The SESPs are appointed volunteers who act as special education decision-makers for children who are in the custody of a state agency, residential placement program or hospital.
Elaine Arsenault, outreach and recruitment specialist for the SESP program of The Federation for Children with Special Needs, said that there are currently about 600 children between the ages of 3 and 18 in Massachusetts who are eligible to be assigned an SESP. She said currently the majority of children needing an advocate are in the 7- and 8-year-old age groups.
"There’s definitely a need in the Berkshires, with places like the Eagleton School and sites in Pittsfield," Arsenault said.
"Right now we have volunteers that are driving in from Northampton and Easthampton. We’re trying to find more volunteers in [the Berkshire County] area," she said.
The main purpose of an SESP is to review and sign off on the individualized education plan (IEP) of a child with special needs. By federal law, a parent or guardian must sign the plan in order for a young person to get the educational accommodations he or she needs. When that adult is not present, an SESP can be assigned to do the task.
Volunteers must commit to at least a year, which averages to between 10 and 20 hours.
In most cases, volunteers spend time observing a child or children they’re assigned to in a school setting. They are responsible for reviewing a child’s IEP, advocating for any additional services needed, and attending at least four meetings a year.
Beginning volunteers may only have a child or two to advocate for, while volunteers who are more experienced with the special education system might monitor progress and needs of multiple children.
Arsenault said SESP volunteers can have both a practical and profound impact on the children they serve.
"What we’ve seen is when a child gets an education, have their needs met and knows someone cares, they can be successful. We’ve had a high amount of kids who have been helped successfully graduating from high school," said Arsenault.
"We’ve also seen a lot of kids aging out of the [special education system] and ending up on the streets. It’s important that these kids get their educational needs met so they can have a chance. Right now, there are no parents to tell them that," she said.
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
If you go Š
n What: The Recruitment Training and Support Center at The Federation for Children with Special Needs is hosting an orientation and training for volunteers.
n When: Saturday, Jan. 12, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
n Where: Eagleton School, 446 Monterey Road, Great Barrington.