Johanna Burke is a special needs attorney and mother to a severely developmentally disabled autistic 18-year-old son, Aidan, who is non-verbal, suffers from a multitude of other medical conditions and disabilities, and requires 24 hour care. Her son, Aidan, currently resides in a group home in southern NJ and has been there for the past 3 years, where he is flourishing and thriving, happy, safe and healthy. Johanna’s son Aidan is the reason she decided to fight and advocate for other families with special needs children. It is truly Johanna’s passion and joy to help special needs families get whatever services their children need and to help give them peace of mind so their children can reach their best potential.
Aidan has thrived since being in a group home and has become more independent and communicative. Johanna learned last Friday that Aidan’s group home and several others are being shut down in January. Aidan and 23 other individuals will need to be uprooted into new placement and go through a new transition.
Before this news, Johanna was due to share on our blog today about their journey but we knew we had to jump in and help share their story in a different way. If you are local in New Jersey, please share the below letter with your local legislator (link here). If you aren't local, you can still help by share this story on social media, emailing NJ media, Autism NJ, NJ Senator Menendez, NJ Governor Murphy or tagging those individuals on social media. Let's help Johanna and 23 other families keep their youth thriving in places they are comfortable in.
As you know, I am the mother to Aidan Burke who is 18 years old and severely developmentally disabled. He has severe autism and is non-verbal, has epilepsy, Di George Syndrome, bipolar depression, severe verbal and global apraxia, severe sensory integration disorder, severe OCD, and severe anxiety. Aidan requires 24 hour care. A staff member sits at the end of his bed every night to make sure he does not have a seizure. My son is still in diapers and cannot do anything on his own and requires one to one care. I placed Aidan at the Kearsley group home in Sicklerville, NJ three and a half years ago. In the past three and a half years my son has thrived and flourished there. He went into the group home weighing 264 pounds at 5 foot 4 inches tall. He has lost 119 pounds and is the healthiest he has ever been in his entire life. He learned to sleep in his bed in a bedroom for the first time in his life and sleeps through the night. He is finally learning to communicate on a talker and for the first time in his life he can tell us how he feels. He is leaning to independently go to the bathroom. He has made amazing progress at his home and is simply my miracle. He has consistency and routine and goes to one of the top autism schools in NJ. The staff residential supervisor as well as the other staff love my son as if he was their own and take great care of him as if I were doing it myself. I have peace of mind that my son is safe, healthy and happy where he lives and for that I am eternally grateful.
With that being said, I received a phone call this past Friday night from Lisa Nocera, the VP at Oaks, and Mary Bliven, the Director at Oaks. They informed me that my son's group is closing as well as 4 other group homes in that area. A total of 24 kids will be taken out of their homes and need to be placed in other group homes in this state. I was told the reason is due to lack of staffing. Oaks will be closing these homes in January of 2022. This makes no sense to me because the Kearsley group home is fully staffed and they just hired several other staff members for my son's group home. There is no reason why my son's group home should be closed. Furthermore, as we all know there are no available group home placements in this state as it is. I of all people know this because I am a special needs attorney and one of my main areas of practice is residential group home placements. How are 24 kids going to be placed into other group homes in this state? Oaks will be uprooting their lives, their schools, and their friends at their homes. Kids living in the same group home will be separated. This is cruel and unusual punishment. These kids have severe developmental disabilities. That is the whole reason they live in group homes to begin with. I am fighting for my son and all 23 other kids to keep these group homes open. As you recall back in July 2020, Oaks told me that were closing my son's group home as well as 4 other group homes due to lack of funding from the state. I was instrumental in advocating to keep my son's group home and the other homes open. I was successful in doing that. I need your help so we can keep these group homes open again. This is an urgent matter for the most vulnerable population in this state.
I am respectfully requesting a meeting as soon as possible to discuss this matter and come up with a solution to keep these kids in the only home they know.
A little more about Johanna:
Johanna is a solo practitioner located in Hawthorne, NJ-The Law Offices of Johanna G. Burke, Esq. Her website is www.jgburkelaw.com. Johanna’s areas of practice include special education law, residential group home placements, guardianships, and helping families navigate the system of care in NJ.
Additionally, Johanna founded her own NJ 501(c)(3) Non-Profit called Fight 4 Autism back in 2014. Fight 4 Autism fundraises monies through special events and then gives back to families who are in need for various things for their children with special needs. To date, her organization has raised close to $200,000 and helped over 90 families pay for respite care, therapies, evaluations, exercise equipment, iPads, pools, fences, summer camp, dancing lessons, rent, medical expenses, etc.