Easter Seals Hawaii testifies on changes in eligibility for EI services

April 23, 2013

Department of Health (DOH) Proposal

Department of Health, Family Health Services Division, proposed adoption of Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR), Chapter 11-40, Early Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers.

The proposal changes the definition of a significant delay to “at least one and one-half standard deviations below the mean for the instrument in any area of development”, compared to the current criteria for eligibility of one delay in a developmental area.  This change would leave 40% of Keiki enrolled in ESH EI program ineligible for services.

The Testimony                                

Approximately 12 representatives from Easter Seals Hawaii (ESH), including president and CEO Christopher E. Blanchard, were in attendance at last week’s public hearing to voice their opinions in opposition to the DOH’s proposed change in eligibility. ESH therapists, program managers and staff shared their thoughts and presented facts on how participants and their families would be affected. Two parents of participants also gave testimony and made it clear that the DOH is limiting the resources their children deserve. “If it weren’t for Easter Seals Hawaii, my son would not be able to talk,” said a concerned parent in tears. Many individuals had heartfelt stories to tell as proof of the success of the current Early Intervention services. Program manager and special educator for ESH’s EI program in Kailua, Carrie Pisciotto said, “I was especially touched by the parent testimonies (I cried) and how our staff stepped up to speak from their hearts about our children.” In addition to the verbal testimonies given at the Oahu public hearing, various parents from ESH programs have submitted written testimony opposing the change.

The public hearing also took place in the Big Island, Maui and Kauai, where ESH staff voiced their concerns about their participants and programs will be affected.

The Rolling Effect

The proposed change will result in up to 40% of participants enrolled in ESH programs to lose their eligibility for early intervention services provided by ESH. This will have a rolling effect on ESH, which includes parents will have to pay for services in order for their children to remain at ESH, a reduction in island wide EI resources and staffing.

ESH staff are concerned that not only current participants will be affected, but also parents will lose an important resource that helps them detect and remedy developmental delays during the critical stages of development. ESH Sultan program manager, Luke Kusumoto, said, “If other community resources and programs are not made available to those that don’t qualify anymore, they will fall through the cracks and will likely be identified at a much later time through the DOE system, which is when any developmental or academic issues will be harder and more expensive to address.”

ESH also believes that the Department of Education (DOE) will also experience increased costs as more children will be placed into special education classes and programs. To Kusumoto, this sends an underlying message that our youngest and most vulnerable keiki are not as important. Blanchard added, “Investment in early identification and services today does more than merely save future treatment costs; it demonstrates our commitment to provide our children with the tools they need to build success as they enter public schools. Maintaining the current deviation score for eligibility is essential.”

To recap:

  • Up to 40% of participants in each ESH program will lose eligibility to receive services. They would have to pay thousands of dollars for what was once a free service for their children.
  • Children with developmental delays that do not fall under the criteria will move on without aid in developing their skills.
  • ESH will experience cuts in the number of participants ESH is able to serve, a reduction of staff and eventually programs.
  • The DOE will experience increase costs as current and future participants enter special education programs.
  • Parents lose an important resource that helps detect and remedy developmental delays and their keiki will “fall through the cracks,” which results in identifying such delays years later when therapy may be more expensive.

A not-so-bright future

In today’s economic climate, in which budget cuts are not surprising Kusumoto thinks that the DOH’s efforts to change the cut-off for Hawaii’s keiki are unacceptable. “We’ve experienced many changes due to revisions in the law and budgetary restrictions. This is where we draw the line in the sand and say, ‘Do not cross!’ Statistically, the children who would be carved out of the budget are the same children who would benefit the most from EI services,” he said.

ESH Development Officer in Kauai, Ellen Ching, agrees that the change will have a significant effect on Hawaii’s keiki. “It could affect an entire person’s life. You could have a child with a developmental delay, and with a little bit of speech therapy, he or she can move on to regular schools. If they enter kindergarten without the skills needed, they are placed in special ed and they are automatically labeled. They have to deal with this stigma their entire life,” said Ching. “If we are a state that focuses on education and reforming education, this is the early education that you are talking about. Ages 0-5 are the most critical ages.”

How You Can Help:

  • Write a letter in opposition to the proposed change in eligibility. Written testimonies will be accepted until May 31st. Send to Children with Special Health Needs Branch (HAR 11-140), 741 Sunset Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96816.
  • Recently, President Obama recommended $20 million should go to early intervention services. Get informed and sign the national Easter Seals petition to convince Congress to pass it.
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