First Steps Program Sees Cuts
Nicholas Gash was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
"Our parents as teachers representative noticed a delay in him in different areas and decided to contact First Steps on behalf of him," said Laura Gash.
First Steps offers services for physically or mentally disabled children under the age of three. Nicholas and his mom have a coordinator visit their house once a week.
"Before, he had about five words total that he could say and now he can say five word sentences to me," Gash said. "He can now let me know what he wants when he wants it."
Today the program dropped from 24 offices to 10 offices statewide.
"We had too many SPOE offices, they were under staffed," said Dale Carlson, First Steps Spokesman. "Part of what Senate Bill 500 did was allow us to create a system that was not only more efficient, we think, but also outline better responsibilities of the SPOE areas."
Carlson thinks the new system will help more children with special needs.
"We look at trying to help the right number of kids it's not a matter of numbers of children it's identifying the right children," Carlson said. "Missouri has an eligibility criteria that is somewhat strict."
Although the Gash's are not affected by the change, Nicholas' mom thinks the program might be taking a step in the wrong direction. It would make it harder for them to get to the kids that need the services with less people working and less offices around the state.
There is already a long waiting list to get early intervention services. But, First Step offices say the number of children they service won't change. Services that help children like Nicholas will allow them to grow one step at a time.
On average Missouri would like to help 2% of eligible children in each region. The new program hopes to serve as a model for other states' First Step programs.