Friday, December 24, 2010

Funding cut for programs for disabled children in Mississippi


GULFPORT, Miss. -- More than 200 South Mississippi children with developmental delays will no longer get the therapy they need.

Studies have shown that every dollar spent on early intervention saves $3 in the long run. But state budget cuts have slashed funding in half for a coast program that works with children from birth until they turn three.

What happens to these babies now is what has a lot of parents and therapists very concerned.

Gracie Herrington of Lucedale was born severely pre-mature with Chronic Lung Disease and Down Syndrome. Her parents were braced for the worst.

"The doctors told them she probably would not survive," said Judy Rowe, one of the founders of Coastal Plains' Bright Beginnings program.

But the four pound baby girl proved them all wrong, and with the help of several early intervention therapists, the now 2 year old Gracie is thriving.

"She has improved so much she's learning to walk, she's starting to run and go up and down steps," Rowe said.

But because of state budget cuts, more than 200 developmentally delayed children like Gracie will no longer get the physical, occupational or speech therapy they need.

"For the last two weeks of December, we halted all services," Rowe said sadly.

Coastal Plains Executive Director Elisabeth Pell said the whole situation is heartbreaking.

"I've had several parents break down and cry because they were so upset," Pell said.

As the Coastal Plains program director, Pell has had to break the news to not only parents of disabled children, but to the therapists she's had to lay off.

"We got a grant for $250,000. Half of it was given to us up front, the other half was supposed to be given to us after the first of the year," Pell said.

But now with the sudden lack of funding, children without insurance will no longer get the treatment they need, unless the community comes to their rescue to keep this vital program going.

"We need fund raising help," Pell said. "We need people to step forward to say, 'What can I do for your program?'"