A shortage in early intervention care providers in Monroe County has created a long waitlist of families needing help for their children, and parents are demanding action.
Tuesday night was the final county legislature meeting in Monroe County before the November election, which saw a gathering of concerned parents on the issue.
One parent was Tina Carney, whose 2-year-old daughter Meredith loves to talk. But Meredith has a speech delay.
“She’s just dealing with a lot of strong emotions, and when she doesn’t have the words to put behind what she wants, she’s just screaming on the floor and starting to hit people and things like that,” Carney said.
Meredith works with speech pathologist Gina Colucci every week as part of Monroe County’s early intervention program.
“We can learn language, we can learn vocabulary, (and) we can learn colors. There’s so much you can do with a simple toy," Colucci said.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Carney says they had to wait six months for services.
“To have her struggle to tell me what she wants and needs, it’s been incredibly frustrating,” Carney said.
But she’s not the exception. Colucci says an exodus of independent care providers from the profession has created long wait times for struggling children, at an age where every day matters.
“At this age, from birth to 3 years old, that’s when the most neurological connections are being made, when the most brain growth happens,” Colucci said.
Colucci says in the 20 years she’s been an independent provider, her industry’s pay has been cut by 10 percent twice, which could be contributing to the lack of providers.
“It makes me sad, honestly. I’ve been doing this for such a long time, and I’ve seen the difference that it makes,” Colucci said.
She says it’s now often impossible for providers to care for others while caring for their own families.
“We need to save for braces; we need to save for college. It’s not feasible to make less as the cost of everything necessary in life goes up,” Colucci said.
In fact, she herself no longer does early intervention full-time. She now works in public education, but still makes time to see children like Meredith.
“I do this after school, I just can’t give it up because I love it too much,” Colucci said.
Carney and dozens of other parents were at Tuesday’s meeting to put pressure on the county to take action. They’ve been attending these meetings for months.
“It’s a crisis. I think it’s a problem. And what’s frustrating is I don’t see what’s the plan. What are the action steps,” Carney said.
Carney says something needs to change quickly.
“A lot of people don’t know about it until you need it. And then when you need it, and it’s not there, then what do you do,” Carney said.
Funding for this program comes from the state, but these parents and care providers say the county can still do more to produce that funding. County executive candidate Adam Bello says he has a plan, and current County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo will discuss Wednesday night what the county is doing about the issue right now.