We can't afford to put children at risk

[img_caption src=”https://www.erikson.edu/wp-content/uploads/Geoff-Nagle-175×1501.jpg” link=”https://www.erikson.edu/about/directory/geoffrey-nagle/” align=”right” caption=”Geoffrey A. Nagle” alt=”Geoff Nagle”]Regardless of where you stand on the issues fueling the state’s current budget crisis, it is difficult to believe that anyone would want to put young children at risk.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen how the budget impasse in Springfield has put programs for young children on the chopping block – programs that impact children early, the most opportune time to influence a child’s resiliency, well-being, and development to build a foundation for later success in school and in life.

First, the state chose to dramatically cut child care services, reducing our investment in programs that support working parents with quality care and service for their young children.

Now, and equally as devastating, is the dangerous fallout from the state’s failure to pay Early Intervention providers who serve children under three who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities – disabilities that in many cases, if left untreated, can create life-altering impairments.

Helping children early

Throughout Illinois, more than 20,000 infants and toddlers from all socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from the federally mandated Early Intervention services to prevent, reduce, or eliminate developmental delays. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitles eligible children to receive these services and they cannot be denied because of a budget stalemate.

A strikingly similar situation occurred in Illinois in 1996, when eligible children were put on waiting lists, leading to the embarrassment of having the courts intervene and mandate that the state serve its children. Will it take another legal intervention to ensure that young children in Illinois receive these life-changing services?

Early Intervention is meant to help children early, in the first three years of life, when there is significant brain development and the greatest potential for gains. Children are referred by medical and child development professionals, parents and other providers for interventions including speech, language and physical therapy.

But without a budget in place, children are in jeopardy. Providers of these critical services are going unpaid and we’re heading into the third month without reimbursement.

They are trying hard to stay in business: Some are taking out loans or lines of credit, some are laying off staff, some are dipping into operational reserves or finding other creative ways to keep their doors open. Unfortunately, many are leaving the Early Intervention system, sending notices to families that they can no longer provide services, leaving the children with unmet needs.

How many more children will bear the brunt of the state’s failure to pass a budget and the unwillingness of government leaders to ensure these children receive the support and assistance they need to succeed in school? How many more Early Intervention providers will we lose?

Investments in Early Intervention services work

Nearly 70 percent of young children who benefit from these services show greater than expected developmental growth and acquire skills at a faster rate – even after their intervention services are complete. Nearly half of the children who leave Early Intervention are functioning at age-appropriate levels and do not need costly special education or other remediation services in kindergarten.

The executive and legislative branches of government continue to muddle through the state’s budget crisis by putting our most precious asset – our children – at risk.

The deep cuts to the child care assistance program last month offered budget relief in the short-term but will cost us all much more in the years to come, as quality child care in the early years is consistently documented to result in improved lives through greater success in school, fewer teen pregnancies, and less dependence on public assistance, just to name a few long-term benefits.

Now the state is restricting access to mandated services for developmentally at-risk children and pushing dedicated and uniquely qualified and trained providers farther and farther away from providing services that are truly impacting lives.

At Erikson Institute, we know how important it is to focus on the early years through educating leaders in child development and family issues, creating new knowledge about what makes a difference and, importantly, by training professionals in best practices for the developing child.

The budget stalemate is threatening to dismantle the Early Intervention system: We’re going to lose providers, betray the families who are entitled to services and disrupt the development of thousands of young children who need help.

Can we afford the cost?

RELATED: Cuts to child care create a ‘lose-lose’ in Illinois