Thursday, February 03, 2005

Missouri First Steps

I'm proad to say that our daughter, Ellie, is currently a beneficiary of the generosity of all Missourians. Ellie has Down Syndrome. The Missouri First Steps program provides her, and thousands of other Missouri children between birth and age 3, with various forms of physical, occupational, development, and speech therapy. First Steps provides these services free of charge to the families of children whose delays range from trisomy 21 to deafness to more mild developmental delays. Since Ellie was about 4 months old, she's been a participant in the First Steps program. She, her mother, and I have all benefited more than we can probably imagine from the therapists who have worked with us to help keep her development close to inline with typical children.

The new Missouri governor, Matt Blunt, has proposed eliminating the program from the 2006-2007 budget. Some rationalization we've heard is that the program duplicates efforts already in place like Parents as Teachers. We participate in both programs with Ellie. Take some time to read the description of these two programs and it becomes patently obvious that the Parents as Teachers program, despite being a wonderful resource for many parents of typically developing children, is not suited to manage and provide the services that are provided by First Steps.

Of course the state has a budget shortfall, just like most states do right now. So, let's consider the alternatives from a financial standpoint.

One alternative is to foist the burden for care off on Medicaid/Medicaid. Providing services for under-privileged families with special-needs children this way not only places an unfair burden on already strained programs; but it also leaves families like mine out on a limb. With the assistance of the program, we're well-off enough that Sarahlynn can stay home with Ellie and work with her developmentally on a daily basis, both with therapists and on her own. Without the program, our personal expenses on therapy would easily rival or surpass our mortgage payment each month. Sarahlynn would be back at work full time to pay for therapists. Then Ellie would have to be in preschool full time. And she would recieve as much attention from her mother and I. Certainly not ideal.

But our financial situation isn't necessarily your concern. We're lucky enough to be able to afford only having one of us work fulltime; and we would be able to find a way for Ellie to receive the assistance she needs even if First Steps were eliminated... albeit to the detrement of both her development and our involvement in her learning.

Suppose you're more concerned about your own fiscal matters, and how state expenses affect your tax burden. The vision of the First Steps program is that the early the intervention, the better. Not so very long ago, children born with trisomy 21 were likely to end up in a state instituation as adults. Helping children with developmental delays before they enter the public school system makes them much more able to integrate with normal classrooms, decreases their need for special attention, and dramatically decreases the likelihood that they'll need (or need as much) public assitance as adults. So, the state pays for 3 years of therapy up front for young children; or the state pays for 20 years of institutionalization or assistance for adults in 15 years. I wonder what the true cost-benefit analysis would show.

If you happen to live in Missouri and are interested in helping Matt Blunt understand the impacts of a decision like eliminating Missouri First Steps, please consider taking a moment to fill out this petition, or send him or your legislator a letter. If you know anyone in the administration or general assembly personally, we'd appreciate it if you contacted them personally and let them know what an important program First Steps is.

P.O. Box 809-A
Jefferson City MO 65102
Telephone: (573) 751-3222

No comments: