Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Opinion: It's Not About Cost; It's About Need

This letter is by Julie Cunningham, LICSW, who is the executive director of Families First Vermont. She sent it to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch. It pretty much could apply to any resident of any state who is concerned about cuts in services.
Dec. 17, 2012
Dear Gov. Shumlin,
Like you, I have been watching the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and trying to comprehend how society has become completely unsafe for our children. I know that you have dedicated much time and energy to thinking about Vermont’s youth, and that you are invested in doing what you can to avoid a similar catastrophe in our state. Since our mental health and developmental services system have been undergoing major systems changes, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about our shared concerns for our future.
As a community-based social worker for 25 years and for the past 13 years as director of a specialized service agency, I have worked closely with hundreds of families who are struggling with a child with a mental illness or a disability. I have noticed, over time, a steady decrease in services that are available for children — most notably in special education — but also in agency programming. Most families come into services at a crisis point. Prevention and outreach are non-existent. IEP and Coordinated Service Plan meetings are often uncomfortable, even excruciating, as service providers do not have enough funding to meet the needs presented. A child under the age of 19 who has a developmental disability can only receive a Medicaid (Developmental Services) waiver if there are repeated hospitalizations or the child is in DCF custody. We are a reactive system, and unfortunately our recent conversations about upcoming changes promise more of the same.

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