>The story can be found online here: http://www.wvgazette.com/News/200804140615

April 15, 2008

Toddler program in jeopardy

Funding shortfall may pinch therapy for developmentally delayed children

A West Virginia program that helps more than 5,600 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers could face cuts this summer.

By Eric Eyre
Staff writer

A West Virginia program that helps more than 5,600 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers could face cuts this summer.

State officials are considering proposals to reduce services, limit enrollment and start charging families a monthly fee to keep the free program afloat.

The program, called Birth to Three because it covers children up to 3 years of age, is expected to finish the fiscal year in June with a $3 million deficit.

The number of children with developmental delays enrolled in the program has increased by 2,000 during the past five years, but state and federal funding hasn’t kept up.

The state has fallen weeks behind in reimbursing nurses and therapists who work with children in the program.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of getting services to children early,” said Birth to Three director Pam Roush. “If the lack of funding for the program resulting in slowed payments causes providers to drop out, everyone loses, including ultimately the infants and toddlers with developmental delays and their families.”

In recent days, parents have flooded state officials and lawmakers with phone calls and e-mails, urging them to find more money for the program. Studies have shown that early-intervention programs for children save states money in the long run.

“It does not make sense that this program has not received any more funding from the government in several years, yet the population is exploding,” said the Rev. Christopher Sizemore, whose son was born two years ago with severe delays. “By being forced to limit services or enrollment, the state will guarantee that the burden of financially supporting these children will be a lifelong burden on the state.”

Parents say Birth to Three has changed children’s lives for the better.

Sizemore’s son receives free physical, occupational and speech therapy once a week at home.
“The miracles in his progress can be accredited to the program and my wife’s diligent adherence to the therapist’s instructions,” Sizemore said.

Jamie Mallory’s daughter, Aaralyn, was born profoundly deaf. Aaralyn couldn’t speak and had trouble walking, her mother said. After enrolling in Birth to Three, the 2-year-old received a wide range of services, and Aaralyn and her parents now communicate through sign language.
A West Virginia program that helps more than 5,600 developmentally delayed infants and toddlers could face cuts this summer.

State officials are considering proposals to reduce services, limit enrollment and start charging families a monthly fee to keep the free program afloat.

The program, called Birth to Three because it covers children up to 3 years of age, is expected to finish the fiscal year in June with a $3 million deficit.

The number of children with developmental delays enrolled in the program has increased by 2,000 during the past five years, but state and federal funding hasn’t kept up.
The state has fallen weeks behind in reimbursing nurses and therapists who work with children in the program.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of getting services to children early,” said Birth to Three director Pam Roush. “If the lack of funding for the program resulting in slowed payments causes providers to drop out, everyone loses, including ultimately the infants and toddlers with developmental delays and their families.”

In recent days, parents have flooded state officials and lawmakers with phone calls and e-mails, urging them to find more money for the program. Studies have shown that early-intervention programs for children save states money in the long run.

“It does not make sense that this program has not received any more funding from the government in several years, yet the population is exploding,” said the Rev. Christopher Sizemore, whose son was born two years ago with severe delays. “By being forced to limit services or enrollment, the state will guarantee that the burden of financially supporting these children will be a lifelong burden on the state.”

Parents say Birth to Three has changed children’s lives for the better.

Sizemore’s son receives free physical, occupational and speech therapy once a week at home.
“The miracles in his progress can be accredited to the program and my wife’s diligent adherence to the therapist’s instructions,” Sizemore said.

Jamie Mallory’s daughter, Aaralyn, was born profoundly deaf. Aaralyn couldn’t speak and had trouble walking, her mother said. After enrolling in Birth to Three, the 2-year-old received a wide range of services, and Aaralyn and her parents now communicate through sign language.
“This agency has been a godsend,” said Mallory, who lives in Dunbar. “I can’t imagine what all we’ve gone through happening to someone who could not receive this kind of help because it wasn’t available.”

State officials say the number of children in Birth to Three has increased, in part, because more and more babies are born prematurely and at low birth weights.

Also, pediatricians are identifying infants with developmental delays sooner. Children can be helped the most within the first three years because that’s when their brain develops the fastest, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About 4 percent of all West Virginia children 3 years of age and under are enrolled in Birth to Three.

The program costs about $4,000 a year per child. Therapists typically charge $150 an hour.
Program leaders convened a task force in January to recommend ways to increase funding. Birth to Three provides free services to children, regardless of income.

The task force suggested that wealthy parents pay up to $100 a month for services, while families that make $50,000 to $74,000 would have to chip in $30 a month.

The committee also recommended that the state consider requiring some families to use private health insurance to cover program services.

Donna Velie, a nurse/developmental specialist, has worked for Birth to Three for 23 years in Princeton. Velie is urging the state and federal government to increase funding.

“This program definitely needs an overhaul,” she said. “We spend several million [dollars] now, but West Virginia will reap the rewards tenfold during the next 15 years as these children become adults and require less services or no services at all.”

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.

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