Report Says Situation is "Bleak" For Disabled Children in Harris County

Such a bright and shining city we have. Well maybe not so much if you're young and disabled.
Such a bright and shining city we have. Well maybe not so much if you're young and disabled. Photo by Skeeze/flickr

click to enlarge Such a bright and shining city we have. Well maybe not so much if you're young and disabled. - PHOTO BY SKEEZE/FLICKR
Such a bright and shining city we have. Well maybe not so much if you're young and disabled.
The Texans Care for Children group has posted a followup to its 2016 report and the news isn't especially good if you're a disabled child in need of services age 3 or younger. Particularly for children of color.

What the group is decrying are the Medicaid cuts made by the Legislature in 2015 — and only partially restored this year — that went to reimburse therapists working disabled children. In addition, the state's appropriations for the Texas Early Childhood Intervention program itself have dropped from $166 million in 2011 to $148 million in fiscal year 2018.

As a result of those cuts, their study found that ECI has seen both a decline in the number of facilities offering the program, and also in the number of families being served. The biggest drop statewide has been in the number of African-American children whose enrollment in ECI dropped 30 percent from 2011 to 2016 compared to 10 percent among Hispanic and 8 percent among white children.

Harris County was highlighted in the report.

"The picture is particularly bleak in Harris County. The overall enrollment declines from 2011 to 2016 were worse in Harris County than in the region or state when accounting for population growth.

"Enrollment of Black children in Harris County plunged 52 percent between 2011 and 2016, falling from 1,432 to 687 children, despite a growing population of Black babies and toddlers."

Similar circumstances were recorded in Brazoria County where there was a decrease of 36 percent of black children in that time period — while the population of African-American children under three in that county increased by 8 percent from 2011 to 2015.

The news was brighter in Fort Bend County which ended up serving 3 percent more children overall than it did in 2011.

The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD (previously the MHMR Authority of Harris County) provides an ECI program and it is growing. But, the report said, because of financial pressures the program is understaffed and no longer has a registered dietician or a Child Find position, instead counting on local pediatricians to tell parents about the program.

Hurricane Harvey is also cited in the report not only for the costly property damage it inflicted on some facilities but because it displaced a number of families as well as staff members. As a result, some families didn't have a continuity of care.

Among other things, the Texas Care For Children's group wants all funding restored and the state to "evaluate and address the causes of the disproportionate decline in ECI enrollment of children of color." It wants federal policy makers to fully fund Medicaid and other federal programs that benefit children.

Probably won't happen in time for Christmas. If at all.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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