BUILDING BRIDGES FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

MBA Spotlight Award Presented to Posternock Apell and Advo-Kids.

Five years ago, a judge expressed his concern to attorney Dan Posternock about the court system’s overall lack of adequate legal representation and support for special needs students. The conversation resonated with Posternock, who had been heavily involved in his college service fraternity assisting kids with disabilities. After law school, he continued to help young people succeed by volunteering for, and chairing, the Juvenile Conference Committee of Moorestown and Medford. After 30 years of practicing law, Posternock uncovered a renewed passion to do more to aid affected families. As a result, Posternock Apell, where he is Managing Partner, added another focused practice to its already-strong arsenal.

He spent several years researching this issue and gathering feedback from focus groups and conducting individual conversations with parents, teachers, and school officials. Posternock identified a significant lack of assistance and education for families with special needs students attempting to navigate school procedures and policies. He observed many parents finding themselves in adversarial relationships with school administrators, leaving them frustrated enough to consider legal action even if they could not afford to hire an attorney.

This research, and his firm’s negotiation-first approach to resolving disputes, is the foundation of Posternock’s plan to equip families with knowledge and guidance using a team of professional education advocates and lawyers. The newly launched Advo-Kids, a specialty group within Posternock Apell, is an in-house advocacy program that uses a highly effective, personalized method to help families and schools build solutions as partners. Posternock notes that when knowledgeable and skilled advocates are involved, a significant percentage of situations result in positive outcomes without entering a courtroom.

Tracy Vargas, who leads the advocacy team at Advo-Kids, shares Posternock’s determination to help all children succeed and flourish. A former special education teacher and administrator, Vargas is deeply knowledgeable about the hurdles that children with disabilities can face in schools, the processes used in districts to work with special needs children, and the perspectives of families who feel lost in the system. She uses research-based individual instruction to develop a level of trust, understanding, and communication between families and schools. The role of the Advo-Kids team, says Vargas, is to help build collaborative relationships so the mutual goal of helping children thrive in the classroom can be achieved.

To accommodate this new initiative, Posternock Apell has expanded its footprint in the community by taking on additional space in its current location in the former train station on Church Street, and designed it as a welcoming environment for children during advocacy appointments. Skype consultations are an option for those who can’t manage a visit to the office, and for families trying to decide what course of action to take, Advo-Kids provides free 20-minute phone consultations. In addition to assisting individuals one-on-one, Advo-Kids offers seminars, webinars, and a newsletter with a variety of information to illuminate issues that families with special needs children face.

Assistance through Advo-Kids is available to families with pre-school children through young adulthood, including post-secondary school transition planning. Posternock’s goal for Advo-Kids is to be the bridge between parents and schools, and to also foster relationships with organizations that sponsor mentorship programs and create inclusive employment opportunities. The 23-year Moorestown resident, who also serves on the township’s Ethics Committee and has chaired the MBA’s Scholarship Committee for numerous years, is excited about this expanded direction for his firm. “This is the area that most allows me to help people improve their lives,” explains Posternock. “We’re continuing to build our team with experts who want to make a positive impact, and I look forward to Advo-Kids becoming a significant part of our practice.”

Moorestown Business Association initiated the Spotlight Award program to acknowledge members who have strengthened and enhanced the community. The MBA Board is pleased to recognize Dan Posternock and the Advo-Kids team for establishing a much-needed, family-centric service within Posternock Apell that helps lay the groundwork for success for many members of the next generation.

Photo: (top) Madison Weller, MBA Vice President Annette McGuire, Dan Posternock, MBA President Steven Pazienza (bottom) Tracy Vargas, Lauri Sacalis, Juliana Perez. Photo credit: Tom Sheckels