A new Department of Human Services proposal to restrict Medicaid eligibility for children in developmental preschools could have a big impact on children in Siloam Springs, according to Renee Philpot, director of Friendship Pediatric Services.
The new 'one-therapy rule' would change current eligibility requirements for developmental preschools, most of which are non-profits. Currently, children have to show severe developmental delays in at least two of six developmental domains in order to qualify for the programs, Philpot said.
Under the new rule, children would have to qualify for at least one form of therapy -- either physical, occupational or speech. The problem is those therapies only address three of the six possible areas of delay, Philpot explained. Children who have cognitive, social or adaptive self-help delays would no longer qualify for services.
Friendship Pediatric Services serves about 75 children with developmental disabilities. Philpot estimated that about five children with disabilities will no longer be eligible for services under the new policy. Mittie Greening, assistant director of the organization, pointed out that the number of children who fall into the category varies from year to year, and some years up to 10 to 15 children would be impacted.
Statewide, the policy could impact more than 3,300 children with developmental delays over the next year and up to 10,000 children over the course of several years, according to a press release from the Arkansas Developmental Disabilities Provider Association (DDPA).
The DDPA is starting a "Save my Services" campaign to urge the public to contact local state legislators and the governor's office to ask them to "remove the one therapy requirement," so that children can continue to have access to services.
The state plan is to move these children a more typical state-funded preschool setting, Philpot said. These preschool programs don't have enough funding, available slots, specially trained staff, transportation or infrastructure to address these children's needs, the DDPA press release states.
"Unfortunately, the problem is that these are children who are probably not going to be successful in those environments, and on top of that, there are not placements in Benton County to take those children, because they are proposing they either go to a Head Start program or an ABC (Arkansas Better Chance) program," Philpot said.
"We're not talking about children who are just borderline," Greening said. "The children that would qualify for our program even without therapies, they have standard deviation of 2.0 or greater in two developmental areas. Just because they don't get speech therapy doesn't mean they don't have delays in other areas. They can have social delays and cognitive delays, but those are not the areas where we provide direct therapies such as physical therapy, occupation therapy and speech."
According to the DDPA, research shows that children with developmental delays and disabilities are seven to 10 times more likely to be expelled from regular day care.
In contrast to Friendship, which serves children age six weeks through five years, most other preschool programs serve only three- and four-year-olds, and don't provide transportation. Other preschools may also have strict income guidelines that make their services unavailable to working families, Philpot said.
"Essentially, in my opinion, what's going to happen is these children are going to fall through the cracks and the parents are not going to get them to a quality preschool, and I would suspect maybe even they won't get preschool at all in some situations," she said.
The good news is there is evidence that developmental delays can be improved or even overcome through early intervention, according to the DDPA. Philpot explained that intervention is most effective during early childhood while the brain is developing.
Friendship serves special needs students by providing them with a lower student to teacher ratio and specially trained staff, Philpot said. Licensed early childhood education teachers oversee the classrooms at Friendship Pediatric Services, she said. Each child that Friendship serves receives an individual education plan and staff members spend time working one-on-one with each child to help them achieve their goals.
Because of the early intervention that Friendship provides, about 85 percent of their students are able to go on to public elementary school without needing intervention or special needs services.
"What's sad to me is a lot of these children are children who are teetering between getting a lifetime diagnosis and just needing enough push to push them over the hump so they won't need services," Philpot said. "And these children who are teetering toward a diagnosis of sort, pulling them out of services is not going to do anything but make it worse for them."
Parent Brandy Calcott, who's son Brody turns four next month, said switching to a different preschool would not be an option for her child.
Brody struggles with severe anxiety and doesn't handle change very well, she said.
"He doesn't like change, he doesn't like new people, it's too overwhelming for him," Calcott said.
Brody started attending Friendship Community Care when he was between 18 and 24 months old, his mother said. When he started, he could barely speak to communicate his needs and his only reaction was to have a meltdown.
"They are so good at getting him to calm down and say what's wrong with him," Brandy said.
Even though Brody has made a lot of progress, Brandy doesn't think that a regular preschool or Head Start program could serve his needs. Since she works, Brandy isn't sure what she will do if her son no longer qualifies for services at Friendship Community Care. She may have to rearrange her schedule and work a late shift so she can care for him during the day.
Brandy wants the officials making policy decisions to understand that even though some children don't qualify for therapy, they still need special services. She urged those in charge of making decisions to look at the bigger picture.
"I just don't think they understand, the kids that don't meet the (new) requirements, they still have disabilities," she said.
More information is available on the "Save my Services" Facebook and Twitter accounts, and online at www.savemyservicesar.com.General News on 04/01/2018
Print Headline: 'One-therapy rule' could impact local special needs kids