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Conference to focus on keeping youth with disabilities out of the juvenile justice system

What happens when a young person with intellectual disabilities responds in an unexpected way in school? Too often, advocates say, the unanticipated reaction leads to a situation where the police are called for assistance and the student ends up in the juvenile justice system.

The net result is youth with disabilities are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system, according to Heather A. McCabe, a lawyer and an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work, and Steven M. Koch, school psychologist and associate professor of clinical pediatrics, Riley Child Development Center.

Now McCabe and Koch hope to address that issue at the ninth annual Conference on Health, Disability and the Law, titled "Youth with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System." The conference, on June 17 at the IU School of Law -- Indianapolis, will bring together national and state experts and families of children with disabilities to discuss how to reduce the number of children with disabilities who end up in the juvenile justice system and what can be done to support those who do enter the system.


Cosponsors include the Hall Center for Law and Health, IU School of Law -- Indianapolis; Riley Child Development Center, IU School of Medicine; IU School of Social Work; and the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force.

"The goals of the conference are to educate people about what issues might arise for kids with disabilities that would land them in the juvenile system and what supports might be out there to keep that from happening," said McCabe, who along with Koch is a co-founder of the conference.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Judith Storandt, the National Disability Rights Network's (NDRN) specialist for criminal justice and juvenile justice issues, who will speak on "Dirty Little Secrets: A National Overview of Juvenile Justice"
  • Steven C. Teske, associate judge with the Juvenile Court System in Georgia, who will speak on "Protecting Youth with Disabilities from Zero Tolerance Policies"

A panel moderated by Bill Glick, executive director of the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, and including Dee Kempson, Indiana Department of Education, Michael Dempsey, Indiana Department of Correction and Dave Judkins, Indiana Department of Child Services, will discuss "Where do we go from here? Placement decisions, disabilities, and funding."

The annual conference started as a student project when McCabe was in law school. She sought out the help of Koch, who at the time was the training director for the Child Development Center, an interdisciplinary training center at Riley Hospital for Children.

The response to the first conference was strong enough that Koch and McCabe decided to hold such a conference yearly and bring people from various professional backgrounds together to add a depth and scope to the discussions that might not otherwise be available.

"We are trying to see how we can work together to meet common goals for the kids," Koch said. Another aspect of the conference is the contributions families can make, McCabe said. "This provides a forum for families to hear from professionals and more importantly for professionals to hear from families."

Conference registration is available online at or by mail at Hall Center for Law & Health, c/o Carsandra Knight, 530 W. New York St., IH 136, Indianapolis, IN 46202. Continuing education credits are available to those who attend the conference. The conference fee is $75 for professionals and those requiring continuing education. For parents and students, the fee is $25. For more information about the conference, call 317-274-1912.