Project Lifeline provides swift support for South Florida’s special needs families

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The Ripley case gripped South Florida. Patricia Ripley was charged with drowning her non-verbal nine-year-old autistic son in a canal in May 2020.

She is set to go on trial next February.

Members of South Florida’s special needs community came together during a town hall meeting after the tragedy, saying families need a hotline to call when they are struggling, to connect them with resources so they know they are not alone.

A new program called Project Lifeline connects those families with swift support services and social workers.

“It is difficult when your special needs child is in crisis,” said Ingrid Morales, mother of a special needs son.

Morales says her son Michael is autistic and struggling with insomnia. There came a moment when she was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, she thought “I just can’t do this by myself anymore.”

“She was at a breaking point and really struggling to find help because she had tried to deal with it for so long by herself,” said Krizia Warren, LCSW, Project Lifeline Manager.

Project Lifeline swifty connected her with support.

Project Lifeline assists special needs families with resources and support. (Courtesy: Project Lifeline)

“I went to her home and did an intake, assessed her needs. We were able come in and support and connect her to respite and to resources to find some balance and harmony,’ said Warren.

It acts as a kind of 9-1-1 for the special needs community. It’s a partnership between Friendship Circle Miami and JAFCO, the Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options, explained Warren.

“There was so much discussion from parents, providers, members of the community that there needs to be a place to call where parents can know that I have somebody to turn to. From there the idea was born, the collaboration with JAFCO began and they are an agency as they have similar service in Broward and we wanted to bring that down to Miami,” said Warren.

The partnership with JAFCO does provide a 24-hour on call line for families.

Lifeline was just that for Morales, a single working mother. She said the enrichment programs for Michael bring him joy, while giving her a breather she so desperately needed. Her message to other parents who may be struggling is, “there is always hope.”

Project Lifeline assists special needs families with resources and support (Courtesy: Project Lifeline)

Friendship Circle Miami says if you think someone may be struggling, ask questions like:

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself or your child?

If they say yes, there are several resources:

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."