Niagara University has received a $200,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to expand its specialized training in the area of disabilities and substance use disorder to the Erie County Probation department. The training will increase disability and substance use knowledge and awareness among probation officers, improving probationer healthcare and healthcare-related services and potentially reducing recidivism among probation clients with complex needs. Last year, a $150,000 Cabrini grant funded this customized training for the Niagara County Probation Department.

“Everyone needs disability awareness training,” said David V. Whalen, project director of Niagara University’s First Responder Disability Awareness Training. “This grant will enable NU FRDAT to extend its customized training to probation staff at the Erie County Probation Department to better prepare them to recognize, identify, approach, interact, and respond to their probationers with disabilities and substance use disorder.”

Previous research conducted by faculty in Niagara University’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice indicated that probationers who have mental health and substance use issues that are not properly addressed are more likely to have their probation revoked or to be incarcerated. Without proper training, probation officers are often unable to identify specific needs when they are not disclosed by probationers; consequently, mental health issues often go unnoticed.

NU FRDAT, in partnership with the ECPD and community organizations including Community Services for Every1 ATI (Alternatives to Incarceration), WNY Independent Living Center, Spectrum Services, and Person Center Services, will develop and provide training grounded in the NU Recognize-Identify-Approach-Interact-Respond (RIAIR) model for all ECPD personnel. The training will educate the staff on recognizing disability indicators/characteristics; equip them with the knowledge needed to identify specific disabilities; and provide guidance on appropriate responses, such as utilizing community resources and support services.

“At a moment when New York state’s health needs are both acute and wide-ranging, the foundation is supporting hundreds of programs addressing the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers and underserved communities across the state. From building up our healthcare workforce and providing essential resources for immigrants and migrants, to investing in community-based providers that address chronic challenges from mental health to food insecurity, funding this year will again offer much-needed support to underserved communities,” said Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., executive chairman of Visa and chair of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation Board.

This new program will expand NU FRDAT’s current offerings, which include customized training to law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, and 911 telecommunicators, as well as training for emergency management personnel, both on site and in virtual formats. It was created in cooperation with all major first responder associations, councils and state offices, and designed to give first responders the knowledge necessary to best serve and respond to individuals with disabilities. In 2020, NU FRDAT was invited to work with CSE1 and the Family Justice Center to develop and provide training for disability organizations, domestic violence agencies, and legal and law enforcement entities in Western New York to help them better assist people diagnosed with intellectual/developmental disabilities who have experienced domestic violence.

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers, bolster the health outcomes of vulnerable communities, eliminate barriers to care, and bridge gaps in health services. Named after a tireless advocate for immigrants, children, and the poor, the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation funds programs and initiatives across New York state that either provide direct healthcare services or address the social determinants of health. For more information, visit


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