Experts to discuss special ed in hard $$ times

Early intervention saves money in the long run, agencies say -- but state budget cuts threaten programs

Providing for special needs children in lean times -- such as facing state budget cuts -- will be the topic at a gathering of experts in Palo Alto Thursday.

"Crisis and Opportunity: A Policy Forum about Early Intervention Services for Children with Special Needs" will begin at 6 p.m. at the Koret Family Resource Center of Jewish Family and Children's Services, 200 Channing Ave.

The forum's target audience is education professionals and policymakers, but is open to the public, according to organizers.

State funding for services for children with special needs has been cut.

"As a result, there is a significant gap between the needs of families and children who require accurate assessments and appropriate treatments and access to such services," said Amy Weiss, a forum panelist. She is director of Parents Place of San Francisco, a resource center for families and children sponsored by Jewish Family and Children's Services.

States are federally required to provide services for young children with special needs. But even as demand increases, funding for California's "regional centers," mandated to provide such services, has been slashed by $100 million, according to Jewish Family and Children's Services.

"Reaching our elected officials through this forum can provide them the information and tools they need to enact lasting and effective systemic changes," Beth Schecter, director of Jewish Family and Children's Services on the Peninsula, said.

Schecter's program includes a Center for Children with Special Needs as well as early intervention efforts at 45 different subsidized preschools on the Peninsula. The goal is to identify children with early behavioral challenges and get them early treatment.

"There are very specific interventions you can do with very young children that pay off quite a bit in the end and save the system a lot of money," she said. "We have mental health professionals in these preschools every week."

Panelists Thursday will include Weiss; Heidi Feldman, medical director of the Behavior Unit of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital; Lynda Steele, executive director and Janel Astor, director of children's services at Abilities United of Palo Alto (formerly CAR); and Sheryl Young, executive director of Community Gatepath.

The forum is aimed at education professionals and policymakers, Schecter said. For more information, call Parents Place at (650) 688-3040.

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