Advocate for Developmentally Disabled Children Lashes out at NYC DOE

**Update: Brad Gerstman appears this evening 2/8 at 5:00PM on WPIX-TV Channel 11 news…

Brad Gerstman, a well-known and well respected advocate and attorney for developmentally disabled children, lashed out today at the sexual abuse of a 14 year old mentally ill boy at the hands of a paraprofessional hired by the NYC Department of education. – New York Times 2/8/15

As Gerstman pointed out:

“Way too often those agencies and their staff that are charged with helping and protecting our most vulnerable children, are instead found to have violated their mission and positions – putting these youngsters at risk for abuse. And way too often, the individuals charged, while guilty of morally offensive and criminal conduct themselves, are not the only ones who are guilty of misconduct. The ability of the abusers to operate is a consequence of lax protocols and poor oversight that makes vulnerable children sitting ducks for predators.”

What happened with this NYC child is unfortunately way too common. Studies show that rates of abuse among children with disabilities   are variable-ranging from a low of 22 percent to a high of 70 percent (National Research Council, 2001)-but when taken as a whole, they provide consistent evidence that there is a link between children with disabilities and abuse.

One in three children with an identified disability for which they receive special education services are victims of some type of maltreatment (i.e., neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse) whereas one in 10 nondisabled children experience abuse. Children with any type of disability are 3.44 times more likely to be a victim of some type of abuse compared to children without disabilities. - Post: Domestic Violence Services 

Looking specifically at individuals with intellectual disabilities, they are 4 to 10 more times as likely to be victims of crime than others without disabilities. (One study found that children with intellectual disabilities were at twice the risk of physical and sexual abuse compared to children without disabilities)  - Head Start: Preventing Abuse of Children with Cognitive, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

As Mr. Gerstman indicates, the prevalence of abuse of mentally incapacitated youngsters means that those authorities in charge of their care need to be constantly vigilant, and the oversight protocols put in place must be rigorous:

“The NYC DOE needs to undertake a comprehensive investigation of not only this incident, but its system-wide policies and safeguards currently in place to determine their adequacy for the protection of vulnerable children in their care.”

Mr. Gerstman, a partner in the firm Gerstman, Schwartz & Malito, is a strong advocate for children with special needs. He currently acts as both co-founder and board member of the Lisa Beth Gerstman Foundation, a family foundation that provides summer camp experiences to children with physical and developmental disabilities.

In the past, he has also served as the Long Island Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks, one of the nation’s largest autism advocacy organizations, as well as Advocacy Chair on the 2007 Long Island Walk Now for Autism Planning Committee. In 2008, Mr. Gerstman was appointed by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to chair his Autism Coalition. In addition, he was recently elected by the Long Island Autism Coalition Board to serve as Counsel to their organization.

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