Mental Health, Special Education, & The Law
April 6, 2022
Join our panel discussion co-sponsored by the Youth Mental Health Project featuring special education attorney Dana Jonson (Dana Jonson Law), special education advocate Diane Willcutts, clinical psychologist Adrienne Smaller, and Youth Mental Health Project Executive Director Valerie Barton to discuss the issue of mental health among our students and how parents can advocate receiving the support their children need. The panel will be moderated by Christine Lai, CoFounder and Executive Director of Special Education Legal Fund.
- Valerie Barton joined the Youth Mental Health Project in 2021 after many years of working in leadership roles in the healthcare sector. Her experience spans government service, consulting, and digital health. Throughout her career, Valerie has advised health systems, life sciences companies, and advocacy organizations on data-driven strategies for improving care delivery and the patient experience. Valerie was drawn to the Youth Mental Health Project because of her own experiences of isolation, pain, and fear as the mother of a child who struggles with his mental health. She is energized by the mission of the YMHP and is driven by making it easier for parents and caregivers to meet the needs of their children through high-quality support and resources.
- Attorney Dana Jonson is a Civil Rights attorney in private practice in Connecticut. Her firm, The Law Offices of Dana Jonson, exclusively represents the civil and legal rights of children with disabilities through the special education process. Dana represents families from early in the process at PPT meetings through Mediation, Due Process, and litigation in State or Federal Court if necessary. She also offers seminars and workshops locally and nationally to parents regarding their rights and navigating the complex special education process. In addition, she provides seminars and workshops to school district personnel and other service providers on how they can best meet their obligations. Prior to law school, Ms. Jonson was a special education teacher and administrator in Boston, MA. Dana is a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law, holds a M.S. in Education from Simmons College, and a B.A. in Psychology from Fairfield University. She is currently admitted to the Connecticut State and Federal bar.
- For nearly 20 years, Diane Willcutts has provided skilled advocacy services on behalf of Connecticut children with disabilities, helping hundreds of families to obtain appropriate programming for their children. Diane has completed over 700 hours of professional development through Wrightslaw, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), the Learning Disabilities Association, the Autism Spectrum Resource Center, the CT and MA State Bar Associations, and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. She has presented at local, national, and international conferences and has been an instructor for COPAA’s renowned SEAT (Special Education Advocacy Training) program. Diane’s previous professional experience included work in research and program development through the University of Connecticut Department of Psychology. Both there and at Rutgers University, she taught courses in statistics and research design, providing her with a practical foundation for understanding and interpreting education research that describes methods of assessment or instruction. Diane served as president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Connecticut and a director on COPAA’s Board. She is currently an active member of numerous professional and parent organizations, focusing on training and legislative advocacy.
- Dr. Adrienne Smaller is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at The Yale Child Study Center. She has a private practice in Madison, CT where she specializes in child and adolescent psychotherapy and assessment of children with learning and developmental disabilities. She consults to schools, child care centers, and is on the Board of Directors of the Yale Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service School. Dr. Smaller completed her undergraduate and Ph.D. at New York University and did her clinical training at The Yale Child Study Center and is known throughout the state of Connecticut as an advocate for children with disabilities.