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Bridges4Kids LogoMichigan 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, 2004
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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 released today.

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 Services.

"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 well-being.

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 him.

"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 working.

In Detroit, nearly 21 percent of the 16- to 20-year-olds met that definition.

"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 well."


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