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Investing in all children.

In his State of the Union message, President Clinton spoke eloquently about a new direction, a focus on children. "Each day we delay really making a commitment to our children carries a dear cost." Speaking about childhood immunizations, nutrition programs and Head Start, he explained how investments to meet the needs of young children and parents have long-term economic implications. Programs, relatively inexpensive in the short run, save vast sums in the future. A few days later, in a question-and-answer session with children, President Clinton demonstrated his commitment to children and again explained the importance of investing in children and families -- not just because such needs deserve to be met, but because it is good fiscal policy.

Unfortunately, far too many citizens do not yet appreciate this perspective and resist the efforts of parents, professionals and other advocates seeking financial support for early intervention, family support and other health and education programs. Examined from only a short-term perspective, programs may appear expensive and "results" limited. For example, early intervention programs do not usually result in dramatic, "noticeable" improvements in a year or two. Rather, the enduring value of the investment becomes evident when children and families are followed through years of appropriate programs. Children are progressing far beyond expectations and many are no longer experiencing complicated and costly educational or health problems.

With our president leading the way, parents and professionals have an opportunity to show the value of specific investments in programs for children with disabilities and counteract the voices of the naysayers unable or unwilling to assume a long-term perspective. For example, state governments no longer spend millions of taxpayer dollars on institutional care for most infants and young children with disabilities. In the past, even in institutions that provided therapeutic services, young residents were not expected to improve. Instead, institutions were one-way tickets to nowhere financed by taxpayers. For those children with disabilities who did remain at home, expectations were minimal and parents were expected to single-handedly provide for all needs. Although direct taxpayer costs decreased, neither children nor parents prospered and there were vast indirect costs to families as a result of careers unfulfilled, other life goals put aside and/or the costs of caring for parents' own health problems caused by the stresses of parenting in isolation.

Today, most young children with disabilities grow up at home and receive specific services that enable them to participate in educational, recreational, religious and social life alongside peers. But explaining these historic changes may be too vague for present-minded citizens fearful of increased taxes. Instead, like our president, we must present specific details. Mobility equipment (the focus of this issue) is an illustration of the need for a long-term perspective. Today's wide selection of mobility products includes wonderful advances in technology and colorful styles -- different sizes and types, designed for active lifestyles -- a striking contrast to the days when all wheelchairs looked the same! Most were big; a few were small. All were dreary and designed to serve the needs of passive, seated "victims," who occasionally moved short distances indoors. Many people sat uncomfortably, leaning to one side or another or sliding forward -- gradually developing added aches, pains and dangerous pressure sores.

Today, parents of a child with a physical disability learn early that proper positioning facilitates the child's active participation in everyday life while providing protection from serious health problems caused by poor posture and inactivity. Today, most children who need mobility equipment can enjoy life alongside neighborhood peers as active participants in community life and plan for a future as independent taxpayers! Nonetheless, when parents seek the funding to which they are entitled -- from private insurance or governmental programs -- to purchase mobility equipment and other assistive technology devices, they are often forced to accept the least expensive alternative such as a generic wheelchair without the benefits of new positioning technologies and materials. To save a relatively small amount in the short run, a child faces a downward spiral of decreased opportunities and increased health risks.

We welcome our new president's perspective on the needs of children and families and his pledge to bring about major improvements in our health-care system. As the complex process of getting to the details evolves, parents of children with disabilities and their allies must be ready to educate the public about investing in not just their children, but all children.
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Title Annotation:reforming disabled children's health care system
Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:One Miracle at a Time: Getting Help for a Child with a Disability.
Next Article:Finishing the race.

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