By DIANE DIERKS
After surviving funding cuts and restructured eligibility requirements, First Steps, Indiana's early intervention program, continues to serve children in need.
Dawn Carlson, program manager of the eleven-county district in West Central Indiana, was concerned First Steps would be terminated and Indiana would be one of the few states in the country with no early intervention program.
"This is a program that has nothing to do with partisan politics," she said. "It has everything to do with making sure that our youngest and most developmentally vulnerable children have the best possible start in life. It just makes sense - personally and fiscally for the state of Indiana."
She believes the program will continue to exist because there will always be children born with disabilities and children who experience developmental delays.
Committed service providers who stayed with the program, in spite of its uncertain future, and families that receive services from the program also contributed, by making their voices heard, to administration officials about the necessity of First Steps.
First Steps began in Indiana in 1986 and was designed to serve children with special needs from birth to 3-years-old. According to Carlson, eligibility is based on identification of a 25 percent delay in one area of development or a 20 percent delay in two or more areas of development. Children are usually referred by parents, doctors, childcare providers or other social service agencies and services are therapies are usually provided in the home.
Indiana's program has continued to grow to become one of the leading early intervention programs in the nation. Carlson said that the program is both family-centered and fiscally responsible and commented, "Past research has shown that for every dollar spent in providing services early, between five and seven dollars are saved later."
Although Indiana's eligibility standard was raised, the program still has one of the broadest definitions of eligibility in the nation. Carlson thinks that this will benefit Indiana in the long term, by meeting needs of children at an early age, while decreasing the need to provide more expensive services as children get older.
She concluded, "We're still here and excited about the direction First Steps is moving. We have a lot of people to thank, especially all the parents who cared enough about all of Indiana's children to make saving the program a personal priority. How can we lose when those folks are part of our team?"
First Steps is available in every Indiana County. For more information, contact First Steps of West Central Indiana, toll-free, at 1-877-0413 or e-mail: email@example.com.