Professionals in the field of childcare and treatment convened at John Bartram High School on Thursday to attend a meeting of the Southwest Epic Stakeholders, an organization consisting of representatives of Southwest Philly groups and community residents.
During the meeting, Department of Human Services (DHS) commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose and school psychologist Umar Johnson addressed the gathering of about 50 people on the issue of childcare, educational assessment and protection of youth.
“We have had an opportunity to go out to many of the meetings that Epic have,” Johnson said. “It’s a really important piece of the work that we do.”
According to Ambrose, changes in the way DHS operates are on the horizon and for this reason input is being sought from the community.
“It’s really about DHS improving its relationship with the community,” she said. “The interventions that we are doing are, are they the ones that the community think are most appropriate? We are not sure about that so we really want to do community partnerships in different areas of the city.”
DHS is, according to Ambrose, moving toward what she calls a “single-case management model,” where private providers will deliver most of the direct services to children and DHS will play a supervisory role.
“We are interested in the feedback that we get from all of the Epic groups and the Epic groups have really helped us lead those community engagement conversations,” said the commissioner.
Epic has ten sites throughout the city where the groups engage its members to address the problems specific to their areas.
In five years, Ambrose said, DHS will look much different with the community playing a more prominent role in how traditional services are provided.
Johnson moved the group to frequent applause as he spoke on the issue of, what he calls, over-treatment and misdiagnosis of Philadelphia children and the nation’s children as a whole.
“Far too many children, and particularly Black boys, are being put in classes where the negligibly mentally retarded, the emotionally disturbed and specific learning disabled at a rate that exceeds everybody else including Hispanic and Asians, and it doesn’t make any sense,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, many of the children labeled as learning disabled are misdiagnosed. He believes much of the problem is caused by financial gain, which could be obtained as a result of labeling children with disabilities and treating the students labeled.
“You need to understand that special education is a business. It is the business of making money off the miseducation of black boys,” said Johnson, a nationally certified school psychologist. “A lot of our kids are put in there simply as an extra medium of funding for the school.”