RTSC // Newsline Articles // Optimism at the 2nd Annual Conference for SESPs
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Emily Gaudette, Recruitment Training and Support Center (RTSC)

The second annual conference for Special Education Surrogate Parents (SESPs) and their professional partners welcomed 150 attendees and exhibitors on October 23rd 2013. Hosted by the Federation’s Recruitment, Training and Support Center (RTSC), “Getting Better All the Time: How SESPs Can Help Youth Attain Positive Life Outcomes” demonstrated a focus on older students in state custody who have experienced complex neurological trauma.

Keynote Jodi Rosenbaum Tillinger advised that youth be directly involved with the shaping of their educations. The sentiment echoed RTSC’s recent webinar series on transition services for youth who have experienced trauma, available on the Federation’s YouTube channel. Rosenbaum Tillinger further described More Than Words, a nonprofit bookstore and training program for youth who are homeless, court-involved, out of school or in state custody.

On a panel hosted by More Than Words, four teenagers outlined their current academic and vocational pursuits. Each time a student described his or her efforts to obtain their GED, reach Youth Partner status at More Than Words, or apply to college, the ballroom filled with applause.

Among featured speakers were members of the Massachusetts chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, including RD Rohnert. Rohnert described his emotions while growing up in the system, noting the reunion with his adult siblings as one of his fondest memories.

Notable speakers also included Marty Mittnacht, State Director of Special Education Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) and Susan Stelk, Education Director at Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Breakout talks included Thomas Mela of Massachusetts Advocates for Children on Chapter 222, further explored by Jane Crecco in this issue of Newsline. Michelle Banks, of DCF, and Jennifer Leonard of The Skills Library, presented sessions on services for teenage youth and building career readiness. Finally, the session presented by the Federation’s Julie Sinclair, Director of Parent Training and Information Center, included a workshop on social-emotional IEP goals for children with trauma in their pasts.

The need in Massachusetts for special educational decision makers for students in state custody is so great that the tasks ahead can feel insurmountable. However, the hopeful atmosphere at the RTSC conference, as volunteers asked questions of their state leaders and shared triumphs, indicated a changing tide. Supported by the knowledge and expertise of SESPs and their partners, our youth in state custody are working toward success.