FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 19, 2009
AUSTIN, TX — Last week the Texas Senate unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. that will bring the necessary statewide coordination and leadership to much needed services for children and their families when seeking assistance for developmental disabilities and serious mental illness.
Senate Bill 1824 will establish a high-level 18-member task force to develop a statewide plan to coordinate and improve the state's efforts in providing services for children and young adults under the age of 22 with disabilities and chronic medical problems.
"What is significant about this legislation," said Sen. Lucio, "is that it will create an opportunity to rework and improve our entire system. In recent years, I have spoken with too many families who have been waiting for years for community-based services that will allow their children to remain at home, and now with SB 1824, eventually we can meet that challenge."
The bill will require key decision makers to work in tandem with families and service providers to identify barriers to service and find ways to improve the quality and efficiency of services for young people with special needs. The Senator continued, "I have heard from too many teachers who do not feel prepared to handle the unique needs of their special needs students, and too many parents who are dreading their children's twenty-first birthday because they have no options for receiving the supports needed to enable them to live independently.
"Most programs have been locally focused or have failed to involve higher level-decision makers in the process," said Sen. Lucio. "SB 1824 is specific about the responsibilities of the task force, requires gubernatorial oversight to assure recommended policies are actually implemented, and provides an opportunity for key agencies to openly discuss their own shortcomings and improvement needs with community leaders, advocates and families."
After examining their own practices and policies, and listening to testimony from families and advocates, the task force, which will be comprised of heads of 10 state agencies that serve this population, four legislators, three parent or consumer representatives and one representative from a local mental health or retardation authority, will create a five-year strategic plan designed to address all of the issues they collectively identify.
In their strategic five-year plan, the task force must provide specific recommendations to improve families' abilities to navigate the service delivery system, measure and evaluate outcomes, maximize the use of federal funds and improve accountability amongst service-providing state agencies. The Governor will appoint the interagency coordinator to preside over the task force, and the individual would be a representative from the Health and Human Services Commission.
"Texas has a rapidly growing population, rising autism rates and increased pressures on our public schools to educate children with disabilities," explained Sen. Lucio. "These individuals and their families have waited long enough, hoped long enough and been disappointed long enough. It is time Texas leaders come together and create serious change!"
SB 1824 will bring the cohesion and effectiveness that Texas currently lacks," added Sen. Lucio, "and better integrate the services these kids receive so their needs are fully addressed and they have an opportunity to thrive."