State budget writers in the Legislature are currently deciding on the funding level for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), the statewide program for families with children age birth to three with developmental delays or disabilities. These funding decisions will determine if young Texans like Caleb, Cody, Gatlin, Kate, and Meredith will get the support they need to learn to walk, communicate with their families, and reach other developmental milestones.
Under the program, families and professionals work as a team to plan appropriate services based on the unique needs of the child and family. Research shows that growth and development are most rapid in the early years of life, and that it’s an ideal time to intervene and change children’s developmental trajectory.
Due to past budget cuts, ECI is now serving a smaller population of children, a larger proportion of whom have more complex needs, such as a medical diagnosis or a delay in multiple areas. Children with more complex needs typically require more services per month. Without increases in funding, children in the program will not receive the hours of services they need to reach their potential. If that happens, it will be harder – and more expensive – to change the child’s developmental trajectory as she or he ages. Without early intervention, other taxpayer-funded systems will be called on to deal with unaddressed challenges that may become more entrenched, difficult, and expensive to treat.
The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has requested additional funding to ensure that children in ECI are getting the appropriate level of services. On the House side, budget writers have recommended funding only a fraction of this request. Senate leaders will be having similar discussions in the coming weeks. Now is the time for ECI advocates and stakeholders to ask the Legislature to fully fund DARS’ Exceptional Item request, which will allow the agency to provide the needed level of service hours to children in the program. This funding is also critical for sustaining the ECI system, which has gone through a series of financial and regulatory changes in recent years that have put a strain on the program.
Here is the story of Kate, as told to us by her mom, Kristi:
My daughter Kate was referred to ECI Life Path Systems at 17 months by our pediatrician. At that time she had no words/sounds, no gestures, and often went silent all day. She would play independently, gave no indication of what her needs might be, and the majority of the time not respond to her name.
At the time my husband and I first came in contact with ECI we were lost as to what we should do next. It was a huge relief to find out we qualified for assistance and that the fees would be based on income. I remember thinking how incredible it is that the ECI testing team could spend such a short amount of time with Kate yet clearly see what our family experiences on a daily basis.
Over the next months ahead our speech therapist provided me and Kate’s older sister with the tools and guidance to teach Kate in a way that worked for her. She began to use some sign language, developed baby babble, and discovered enjoyment with interactive play. ECI answered our many questions, provided listings of local providers, and sent additional therapists from different specialties out when needed.
Our physical therapist was able to accurately diagnose an issue with one of Kate’s legs and demonstrated various exercises that we could do with Kate to help her. Our behavioral therapist became involved around 28 months when I noticed Kate began to get upset a lot and have major melt downs that were just not in her nature. Her suggestions made a world of difference in our day to day life. Today at almost 36 months we have a soon to be three year old that finally tells us what she wants or at least shows us when we don’t understand. That is an amazing advancement for our household!
Each of the people on Kate’s ECI team has played a role in changing not only Kate’s quality of life, but our family life too. I have no doubt that had we not been involved with the ECI program Kate would not be the happy, independent, and eager to learn and play with others child she is today. Our family does not have the words to express the tremendous amount of gratitude we have for our ECI team.