Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From Shoelaces to Braces

by Anna Hundley, ATC Executive Director

While serving as Executive Director of the Autism Treatment Centers of Texas since 1982, there have been many challenges along the way.  As you might guess, most of them have to do with funding critical services for children and adults in our program.  I’ve been around long enough to know that budget issues are never going away and must be tackled head on.  Kicking the can down the road only gets costlier.  That’s the issue the Texas Legislature is dealing with now.

For over twenty years, the Department of Family Protective Services has placed children with autism and challenging behaviors with ATC.  Currently, 29 children are enrolled in ATC programs for direct-care services.  From community-based group homes to one-on-one autism-specific therapies, ATC takes care of their every need providing everything from shoelaces to braces.

Often times, once a child is placed at ATC for early-intervention services, they turn into lifetime services.  Many of the kids placed at ATC by FPS are still with us, but now in Adult Services.  The continuity of services and familiarity with staff members has only contributed to their increased independence and overall quality of life.  To provide a lifetime of quality care, however, requires money.  ATC cannot shoulder the entire cost. 

State reimbursements fund approximately 80% of the entire cost of providing an array of services for each individual.  Private fundraising, wise stewardship of limited resources, and an engaged Board of Directors help us sustain the programs while keeping them affordable to families in the community seeking our services. 

An August 1 article in the Dallas Morning News reported a state contractor for protective children’s services pulled out of a $30 million a year contract due to problems with adequate funding.  Stories like this are not unusual.  While it takes a significant investment for state agencies to appropriately support children, they deserve nothing less than safe and comfortable housing.  When the 84th Legislature convenes in Austin in January 2015, they will decide important state-wide issues, including agency budgets.

As the costs of providing children under FPS custody increase, state leaders will be forced to deal with this issue.  After all, state budgets reveal our priorities.   I remain positive that children removed from their home for neglect, abuse, and trauma will receive the proper funding for them to be successful in their lives. ATC is committed to providing every opportunity for the children enrolled in our programs to learn, play, work, and live in their community.  

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