Parents of disabled seek more funding

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Council members, a group of parents, professionals and...

By Betsy Scheinbart

The Queens Council on Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities took its case for an increase in public funds to more than a dozen Queens legislators Friday at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Council members, a group of parents, professionals and advocates, asked legislators to help pay for the education, housing, and health care of borough residents with developmental disabilities.

A developmental disability is defined as a severe chronic condition, which manifests itself by age 22, is lifelong and results in the substantial limitation in a person’s mobility, ability to communicate or to live independently.

Dr. Neal Cohen, the commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services, was the first speaker of the day to emphasize the need for additional city and state funding to help pay direct care workers and teachers of children with developmental disabilities.

There is a 45 percent job vacancy rate and a 35 percent turnover rate in the employment of direct service care givers to people with developmental disabilities due in part to low wages earned by these workers, the council said.

For example, certified special education teachers who work 12-months a year in non-public special education schools are paid less than a first-year, uncertified teacher who works 10 months a year in the public schools system, the council said.

State Assemblyman Marty Luster (D-Ithaca), who grew up in southeast Queens, was recently appointed chairman of the New York State Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

“As much as you hear about the importance of money, what we really have to recognize is the role family members play in this system,” Luster said. “Money doesn’t perform services or give love.”

Luster also proposed raising the state’s funding to New York State Cares, a five-year plan to virtually eliminate the waiting list for residential services for people with developmental disabilities.

Developmental disabilities may or may not include mental retardation. Other examples are cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, Spina Bifida, Prader Willi Syndrome, Tourette Syndrome and learning disabilities.

Yvette Watts, the mother of 15-year-old Jade, who has autism, and co-chair of the council, said the quality of programs for the developmentally disabled must be improved, especially considering the high turnover in direct care workers, staff at residential homes, and special education teachers.

“Parents of children with developmental disabilities want the same thing as other parents,” Watts told the legislators in the audience, “and I don’t think that is too much to ask considering what we go through.”

Jeff Solomon, the father of Sam, 3, who has a developmental disability, said people naturally look for higher-paying jobs and leave their work at place like the Early Intervention Program, which provides services to young kids like Sam.

“Everyday we as parents are unsure of the care he is getting,” Solomon added. “Staffing and funding must be addressed. Please don’t let the talented professionals leave for money — there is too much at stake.”

Several politicians took the microphone and promised to help the council’s cause, including state Sens. Ada Smith (D-Jamaica), Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).

“We have come a long way,” Padavan said of the care for the developmentally disabled.

State Assembly members Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Corona), Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) were also in attendance. City Councilmen John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) also spoke.

Four candidates for borough president pledged to support additional funding for council programs, including City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), City Councilmen Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), Michael Abel (R-Bayside), and state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach).

Abel, part of the entire Queens delegation to be forced out of office by term limits, advised advocates for the developmentally disabled to begin working with new council members as soon as they win the election.

City council candidates Leroy Comrie and David Weprin both said they looked forward to working with the Queens group if elected.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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