EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty announced Monday, the launch of a new data initiative to better assist children with autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

According to a press release from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania courts (AOPC), the goal of the ‘pilot data collection effort’ is to help better identify children diagnosed or self-reported with autism or ASD at the time they enter the court system.

The AOPC says in doing this, county, judicial, and law enforcement agencies will be better equipped and educated to identify and respond to those with autism or ASD.

Justice Dougherty says wishes to expand the effort system-wide.

“At no point has the statement ‘the earlier the better’ been more important than right now. We need to learn as much about the people, especially the children, who come into the system as soon as we can to better serve the goal of achieved justice,” explained Justice Dougherty.

Doughtery says that the system needs to specifically fit their needs and when this is done it allows families to succeed no matter what they have going on in their lives at the moment. Getting as much information as possible about a single individual, especially a child, during a point of entry will only help to move everyone forward.

As the press release reads, making this information available will better prepare those mandated to meet the needs of all court users.

“Through this partnership with our court information technology team, we are once again forging new ground to gather data which will help us fully understand how many people, including children, are coming into the system and through our courtrooms who may need more from us than we previously knew. As we’ve said time and again, we want everyone to know that when you enter our system from Erie to Philadelphia everyone is seen, heard, and accepted and there’s no better feeling than that. “Having this new information available to us will help us ensure resources are directed where they are needed the most and can make the greatest impact for children and their families.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty

The AOPC says, Justice Doughtery has been working with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop a statewide ‘virtual listening tour’ that would allow listeners to hear firsthand accounts about everyday challenges faced in the workforce.

In the meantime, Justice Dougherty has partnered with the Pennsylvania Courts’ Office of Children and Families in the Courts to create the ‘Autism in the Courts Taskforce.’

They focus on providing increased training opportunities for judges, helping further identify gaps in the system for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities, and creating a local roadmap to resources and services.