AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Parents and child advocacy groups have been at the Texas State Capitol this month, asking lawmakers to set aside funding they say is needed to serve more than 50,000 babies and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities.
Early Childhood Intervention, or ECI, provides support and services to families with children from birth to three-years-old, regardless of their insurance coverage status. A child must have a developmental delay of at least 25 percent in one or more areas of development, a medically diagnosed condition or an auditory or visual impairment, according to a presentation from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Families have access to a wide range of services, including training, counseling, home visits and specialized skills training. Providers in Texas include Any Baby Can and Easter Seals.
“We have a growing population of young kids in Texas, so we need to make sure those kids are served,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children.
HHSC has listed ECI funding as an exceptional item in their request for funding from lawmakers, asking for $70.7 million in general revenue for the next two years.
“With this request, HHSC aims to ensure the ECI program is able to continue serving the number of children currently eligible for services and would provide funding levels necessary to cover both the costs of services and the amount needed to retain contractors,” according to the agency’s presentation this month.
HHSC has outlined several ongoing challenges of the ECI program, which includes the need for additional dollars or program restructuring and gaps in coverage when contractors leave the system due to funding issues.
A Texans Care for Children report shows state funding for ECI fell from $484 per child in 2012 to $412 in 2018. So far, neither the House nor Senate budget bills have added this specific request.
“The budget bills include a small $4 million increase in federal funds for ECI caseload growth,” a document from Texans Care for Children said.
Leander resident Tegan Retzer was at the Capitol with her son, Clifford, this month. Clifford started receiving ECI services when he was two. Prior to that time, Retzer says her son and family struggled to understand what was going on.
“He was having so much trouble communicating that his communication came out in head banging,” she said. “Any parent that has tried to soothe a crying infant will know how hard it is to soothe them when you don’t know what’s wrong. If Clifford had an empty sippy cup, he would head bang to tell me he needed juice.”
That all changed once Clifford received help from their ECI provider, Retzer said.
“They taught him sign language,” she said. “They taught him how to say that he’s hungry, he’s thirsty and how to point when he has a headache.”
Child advocacy groups are watching closely to see what will happen.
Rubin added: “It makes sense that if kids zero to three are on a developmental track, are able to communicate, are walking and are ready for school, they’re going to be less likely to need special education services which are very expensive for the state.”