The following is taken from a letter to the editor written by Valerie Strohl and published in the Indianapolis Star in May 2005. It is being used with permission.
Ms. Strohl, of Zionsville, chairs the Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers, which advises the Family and Social Services Administration on the First Steps program.
"I have paid close attention to comments made in The Star regarding First Steps, Indiana’s early-intervention system for infants and toddlers with disabilities, age birth to 3. Here are some facts to dispel misunderstandings about the system.
Fact: First Steps is not Medicaid. It was the first attempt by Congress to say that families of infants with developmental delays need supports from various public sources. This system is supported through both federal and state dollars as well as private funds (co-pays and private insurance).
Last year, First Steps had growth of only 5.5 percent, due to measures to gain control over previous years growth. The program is one of the most efficient early-intervention systems in the country, and other states have modeled their systems after ours.
At an average cost per child per year of $2,900, First Steps is a winning solution for taxpayers. Furthermore, out of the 19,000 children served last year, we expect only 26 percent to go on to need preschool special education. Preschool has a price tag of $13,000 per child per year. With schools facing budget cuts, it is important that we serve as many children as we can within the First Steps system. It is good economics for the state.
Many insurance companies do not cover the services needed by these children. Until two years ago, even companies that did cover First Step services refused to pay, through the law was on the books. We are now billing these companies where appropriate. Unfortunately, there is pending legislation that would make this process even more difficult for families.
First Steps uses a development model that empowers families to care for their children to care for their children into the future. No child will make gains only by seeing a therapist once a week. The family must carry out the activities between sessions.
Research shows that intervention in the first three years of life is the most effective time to impact a child’s development. First Steps is available to all citizens, regardless of their income level. In 2004, less than 1 percent of the children who received services were from families whose income exceeded $250,000. The significant majority of children served are middle-and lower- income families.
Most families would relish the opportunity to not need First Steps. Unfortunately, life’s circumstances dictate otherwise. It is unfortunate that people who have limited or no knowledge of the system are now discrediting these families.
First Steps is a wonderful, cost-effective means to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have a chance to be productive citizens."
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