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$20 million earmarked for early help for disabled children

Provided to the Tribune

In the state’s largest effort of its kind, First 5 California has announced a $20 million investment to increase, enhance and integrate services for California children with disabilities and other special needs.

The First 5 California Special Needs Project, operating through demonstration sites in 10 counties, improves services and provides early screening and detection annually to more than 5,000 children from birth to 5 years of age.

“Parents of children with special needs often have to jump through hoops to try to get the help they need,” said First 5 California Executive Director Kris Perry. “Services may be scattered, difficult to find and inaccessible. Today marks a huge step toward creating a system of coordinated services that is family-friendly, easily accessible and strives to reach all young children with disabilities and other special needs.”

Early care, detection and appropriate services for young children with disabilities is key to future development, yet an alarming number of young children are not being screened for potential conditions.

These conditions, including social, emotional, behavioral, mental or physical disabilities, can go undetected until children begin school, inhibiting both future development and early treatment that could improve crucial learning skills.

“Early identification is an essential first step for young children to grow and learn,” said Dr. Louis Vismara, First 5 California commissioner and founding member of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis. “By implementing early, comprehensive developmental screenings before children enter school, many more of these children could get the help they need early when it would be most effective. First 5 is on the right track to help our children, our families, our communities and our entire state.”

First 5 California created its Special Needs Project to assist children with disabilities and other special needs with increased services and better coordinated programs. The $20 million investment builds a strong, sustainable and collaborative system of services by:

n Providing universal access to screenings for early identification, diagnosis, and referrals at earliest point of need.

n Improving access and utilization of existing services, implementing new services, and including children who are currently ineligible/undiagnosed.

n Including young children with disabilities and other special needs in conventional education programs and social settings, and providing supervision for optimal success.

n Providing extensive family and community outreach to advocate better services for disabilities, children with disabilities and other special needs, and available services.

n Promoting the sharing of effective strategies and best practices.

According to the 2000 Census, assuming a conservative 5 percent disability rate, that in California, at least 124,000 children under the age of 5 have or will develop a disability or mental or behavioral disorder.

In the 2004Ð2005 school year alone, nearly 70,000 children birth to 5 years were enrolled in special education services in California. First 5 California programs have already assisted thousands of children with special needs and disabilities, and this program will further enhance services in El Dorado, Los Angeles, Orange, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco and Sonoma counties. These counties have invested an additional $10 million total for this effort.

“The First 5 Commission of San Diego is constantly seeking innovative ways to improve the lives of all children in our communities,” said Laura Spiegel, First 5 Commission of San Diego executive director. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to enhance our services to area children with special needs and their families. These programs are already having a huge impact and we will be able to help thousands of additional families in the years to come.”

First 5 California, also known as the California Children and Families Commission, was established after voters passed Proposition 10 in November 1998, adding a 50-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to fund education, health, childcare and other programs for expectant parents and children up to age 5.

For more information visit http://www.ccfc.ca.gov.

For information about screenings in El Dorado County contact Steven M. Thaxton at (530) 672-8298.


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