Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 5, 2008

Let’s be pound wise for a change

In a classroom at Morgan Hill’s rural Machado School, toddlers who think that they’re playing are actually working hard to master skills that come naturally to most children.

One toddler might be picking up a Cheerio or placing pegs in a pegboard – simple tasks for most toddlers, but difficult if you have a hard time coordinating your hands with your eyes. Another might work on pulling himself to a standing position – something that most children 12 months younger can easily accomplish.

As they work and play with the assistance of a team of experts, the 14-month-old to 3-year-old toddlers have no idea that their program is in peril.

AIM – an acronym for Atypical Infant Motivation – provides early start services for 10 toddlers at Machado School and 12 younger and medically fragile South Valley infants and toddlers in their homes. AIM’s waiting list extends to July, and its Early Childhood Education Specialist Tim Harper knows of at least 25 more South Valley children who need AIM’s services.

The program – the only one of its kind in all of south Santa Clara and San Benito counties – will close on March 31 if California Department of Developmental Services officials don’t approve a funding increase.

AIM’s services are provided at no charge to eligible children. The services are paid entirely by state funds.

Children who qualify for early start programs like AIM might have Down syndrome or an autistic spectrum disorder, might have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb or might have been born prematurely.

AIM’s team of special education teachers, physical and occupational therapists, a feeding specialist and social workers provide “language development, cognitive development, decision making, emotional growth, self help skills, social interaction, sensory-motor learning and neuromuscular development” to developmentally delayed and at-risk children younger than 3.

Families are referred to AIM by the San Andreas Regional Center, which serves as a clearinghouse for people with developmental disabilities in our area. Eligibility criteria are available at the DDS web site.

AIM has been serving developmentally delayed and at-risk infants and toddlers in Morgan Hill since October 2005, thanks to a grant-funded expansion of AIM’s San Jose program.

When DDS officials approved the Morgan Hill program, they gave AIM a temporary rate that was supposed to last no more than 18 months. That rate is 51 percent of the rate that AIM’s San Jose program receives.

The state froze those rates in July 2006. As a result, the Morgan Hill AIM program operates with an annual deficit of more than $85,000. Without an increase, the program will close on March 31.

If AIM’s Morgan Hill program shutters, the families it serves will be forced to find services in San Jose or even farther afield. They’ll likely join long waiting lists, and their children might “age out” of eligibility before finding replacement early start services.

Failure to fund early start services is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Mary H. Belkin Ph.D. of the Jacksonville Early Intervention Program estimates that “For every $1 spent on early intervention, $7 can be saved in subsequent intervention and educational costs.”

And it’s important to start early. Marji Erickson Warfield of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center found that for children “with mild developmental delays, those entering early intervention before their first birthday made greater improvements per $1,000 investment than those who did not receive services until they were more than 1 year old.”

The more that early start programs help infants and toddlers make strides before they enter public school, the less school districts will need to spend on special education services.

The more that early start programs help infants and toddlers grow into adults who can provide for themselves, the less the state will need to spend on welfare, housing and medical services for decades.

Whether you’re grateful that your children are reaching their development milestones on time, or simply favor spending scarce state money wisely, like funding cost-effective programs like early services for developmentally delayed children, please, do what you can to get the DDS moving on funding AIM’s Morgan Hill program.

Write DDS Executive Director Terri Delgadillo. Urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, your state Assembly member and state Senator to tell DDS officials to act quickly to keep South Valley’s only early services program open.

Time is of the essence. The very young South Valley children served by Morgan Hill’s AIM program will be toddlers only briefly, and only once.

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Responses

  1. […] remains open I’ve heard from AIM officials that their Morgan Hill-based program providing early start services to infants and toddlers from south Santa Clara County and San Benito […]


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