Local advocates push for more early intervention funding

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. If you’re worried that your young child may need speech or occupational therapy, you may also need to worry about how long it’ll take to get them evaluated and then into treatment.

Infants and toddlers across New York State with developmental delays and disabilities are being wait-listed for early intervention services, according to the Children’s Agenda.

The issue comes down to a staffing shortage among physical, occupational and speech therapists. Already, more than 1/3rd of infants and toddlers are waiting more than 30 days just to be assessed for early intervention. State regulators then require that services begin within 30 days of a plan being established, but there just aren’t enough providers to keep up with demand.

According to Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, there are currently 216 children in his county alone who’ve been waiting longer than 30 days. Children who live in poverty are the most impacted.

On Wednesday, 94 agencies across New York called on Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature to increase reimbursement rates for early intervention services by at least 11% in next year’s state budget and to institute a rate add-on to cover the costs that therapists incur traveling to the home or daycare center of the children who need in-person services.

“What we have seen is the wait list is the longest for speech and occupational therapy and special education is pretty long too,” says Amanda Wilbert, the Regional Director of Step by Step Pediatric Therapy Services.

“So, we will evaluate a child, say ‘yes your child has delays and they need help, good luck,'” Wilbert said. “Hopefully, somebody finds you or picks you up. Hopefully you’re in an area of a county that providers want to work in.”

“If I can just be very blunt we got news yesterday that Governor Hochul’s Office approved $10 million to improve the appearance of Rochester,” she said. “If I think it’s a big message if this doesn’t get funding, it’s a really big message about how society feels about people and children with special needs.”

Lawmakers are likely to consider the increase when they head back to Albany after the first of the year.