University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) aim to positively affect the lives of people with disabilities by building and strengthening systems that support full community participation. These activities are carried out in alignment with the DD Act (hyperlink) through the UCEDD core functions which include: (1) interdisciplinary training including continuing education; (2) community service including training, technical assistance, model, and demonstration services; (3) research including evaluation, and analysis of public policy; and (4) information dissemination. The ExceLens series highlights the valuable work of the UCEDDs within university systems, the community, and in the lives of people with disabilities across the lifespan and their family members

Kennedy Krieger Institute

Located in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region, Kennedy Krieger Institute is internationally recognized for improving the lives of tens of thousands of children, adolescents and adults with neurological, rehabilitative or developmental needs through inpatient and day hospital programs, outpatient clinics, home and community services, education, and research.

Project HEAL (Health, Education, Advocacy, and Law)

Maureen van Stone, Esq., MS, Project HEAL’s (Health, Education, Advocacy, and Law) founder, was a clinician on the Inpatient Neurobehavioral Unit (NBU) at Kennedy Krieger Institute. She noticed that upon discharge, many patients and families had difficulty getting the NBU behavioral plan implemented in home, school, and community settings. She decided to attend law school to better be able to advocate for Kennedy Krieger patients and their families. In 2005, Maureen received a postgraduate legal fellowship from Equal Justice Works to create Project HEAL at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Maryland’s only comprehensive medical-legal partnership. At the expiration of the fellowship, Project HEAL found a permanent home within the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD), Maryland’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD) at Kennedy Krieger Institute. 

The team’s mission is to provide quality advocacy and civil legal services for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are patients at Kennedy Krieger Institute and their families. Project HEAL attorneys collaborate with Kennedy Krieger faculty, staff, and trainees to ensure that patients receive the medical and legal care that they need when there is a civil legal issue that requires the intervention of an attorney. Project HEAL attorneys seek to work collaboratively with individualized education program (IEP) teams to advocate for students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. While the project has encountered a few challenges including maintaining sustainable funding sources and keeping up with an exceedingly high demand for services, it has been extremely successful in providing essential services.

Students with disabilities often do not receive the special education and related services to which they are legally entitled, or the services that they do receive are not appropriate to meet their needs. Additionally, students with disabilities are disproportionally removed, suspended, or expelled from school, and their post-school outcomes are more likely to be poor. Further, low and moderate-income families often cannot afford legal representation in special education disputes. Project HEAL seeks to fill that gap with the goal of creating better short- and long-term outcomes for students with disabilities and their families. 

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