SPAG Helps Families with Special Needs Grow and Succeed
Nicole Whitfield, Executive Director of Special Parent Advocacy Group, sits down with Joanna Gagis and shares her personal story that inspired her to start the advocacy group. Whitfield also discusses how the organization has grown to offer different types of respite care programs to families with special needs.
"Welcome back to Life & Living. For so many parents of children with special needs, it's hard to know where to turn for help. My next guest understands all too well, which is why she started Special Parent Advocacy Group. She's joining me right now. Executive Director Nicole Whitfield. Welcome to the program. Thank you. Tell us about Special Parent Advocacy Group, and why you started it. Special Parent Advocacy Group was founded by myself and my husband, he's a Co-Founder. In 2011, my son was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half, and when I moved from the suburban district to the urban district, I found a huge difference in the services provided. So I moved from Burlington County, which was a suburb in Burlington County, to Mercer County, which is the City of Trenton. When I registered my son into the City of Trenton, that's when I realized that my son is... could not get, pretty much, what he needed. What did he need? What were the services that...? He needed an aide on his bus. Okay. So the bus would come every day to pick him up with no aide, so I refused to put him on the bus. He needed speech services, occupational therapy, and he was in an inclusion classroom setting. And he also needed a one-to-one aide. The majority of the time, his related services didn't start till the month of November, when it should have been starting in, let's say, mid-September at least. By the time the second week of school rolls around, they're supposed to be in their therapies. And that did not happen. So it was kind of rough. What recourse did you have as you see that your son is not getting these vital services? You can't even get him on the bus. What does that mean for you, practically, in terms of even getting him to school? So at the time, I was employed by, you know, a regular corporation. I was a project manager. I had to take numerous days off of work, eventually leading to me actually being laid off my job. I was out all the time, because I couldn't put him on the bus. So I had to get him to school, you know, obviously if I'm traveling to North Jersey from South Jersey to get to work, that's a problem. It's, you know, it was just constantly, either I was late, or I couldn't get there, because I had to go to the school, if he didn't have his aide, I had to pull him out of school. So it..."