Child Welfare: Serving Special Kids
For the first time, report includes disabled children;
parents say it's difficult to get them the help they need.
by Wendy Wendland-Bowyer, Detroit Free Press, January 8,
For more articles like this
One in eight
Michigan youths has a disability that interferes with their
ability to learn, go outside the home alone, see, hear or move
about, according to the Kids Count in Michigan Data Book being
The extent to which the disability can be managed often depends
upon the family's income and access to services, and parents'
ability to navigate the network of services, said Jane Zehnder-Merrell,
senior research associate with the Michigan League of Human
"I hope that this will add a perspective to some of the
discussions we have been having in our state about services to
children and youths with disabilities," Zehnder-Merrell said.
"The question is whether these families and children are getting
the services they need."
Kids Count in Michigan is an annual report on the state of
Michigan's children put together by the Michigan League of Human
Services and Michigan's Children. It contains information from
various governmental reports and programs related to children's
This is the first time the report included information on
children with disabilities. It also has its usual statistics on
teen pregnancies (which continue to drop), infant mortality
(which remains relatively flat) and the number of teens who die
from injury (which continues to drop).
The report also examined day care costs, finding that full-time
day care for one child takes about 17.8 percent of the average
parent's salary in Macomb County, 16.9 percent in Oakland and
14.2 percent in Wayne. It found that about 5 percent of all
children in Oakland County receive food assistance from the
government through what used to be called food stamps. That
number is 6.3 percent in Macomb County, 22.3 percent in Wayne
County and 13.3 percent statewide.
But what's expected to receive the most attention this year is
the data on disabilities.
"They should have done this 20 years ago," said Drucilla
Daniels, a Detroit mom who, along with her husband, adopted six
children with disabilities. "If we're talking about kids, we
should be talking about all kids."
Daniels, 54, is a registered nurse who works as a child care
health consultant for the Child Care Coordinating Council of
Detroit/Wayne County. She said parents of disabled children face
many hurdles. Just trying to find a day care or an after-school
program that takes disabled kids can be impossible, she said.
Lisa Matter of Redford has a 4-year-old son who was born
prematurely and is now developmentally delayed and hearing
impaired. She said she has struggled to find services to help
"I wish they had billboards. I wish they had commercials"
promoting programs, she said. "They always say how early
intervention is the best medicine, but it is really hard for
parents to know where to get things."
And then when a parent does find services, the cost can be
astronomically high, Matter said.
Yet children who get these services do better, according to the
Kid's Count report. The report said that children in low-income
families were twice as likely to usually or always be affected
by their disability, compared with those in more affluent
families with greater access to treatment.
Much of the disability data is from the 2000 census. The census
defined a disabled child as one 5 and older who either had a
severe vision or hearing impairment, a condition that limits one
or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing
stairs or lifting, or difficulty learning, remembering or
concentrating because of a physical, mental or emotional
condition that lasted 6 months or more.
The definition for a youth, age 16-20, also included those with
a physical, mental or emotional condition that lasted at least 6
months and kept them from going outside the home alone or
In Detroit, nearly 21 percent of the 16- to 20-year-olds met
"We're talking about one in five kids in Detroit needing
services; one in eight statewide. It is pretty staggering," said
Barbara LeRoy, director of the Developmental Disabilities
Institute at Wayne State University.
"This is not just a few kids we could put to the side anymore.
This is costly to the system and we need to address it early as
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