In 2011, Texas started cutting millions of dollars from the state Early Childhood Intervention program (ECI). At the time, they estimated it would lead to 9 percent reduction in the number of kids that could enter the program. That includes kids with speech delays, Down syndrome, autism and other challenges.
According to a new study from Texans Care for Children, the impact was bigger than expected. The group found statewide enrollment in ECI programs fell by 14 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Texans Care for Children CEO, Stephanie Rubin, says enrollment of black children in the program fell by 27 percent.
“It really needs some attention at the community level and at the state level to look into why black families have been left out of the program at the highest numbers, Latino families as well,” she said. “This is when the population of black and Latino young kids has been growing in the state.”
Providers say it’s not surprising these services are harder to come by now.
Andy Miller, the President and CEO of Any Baby Can, says you get pay for, adding that it’s getting harder for providers like him to keep their doors open.
When it comes to communities of color, Miller suspects the family cost shares might be driving some families to opt-out of the program.
“What we see is that amount that Texas requires that families contribute to the services that they are provided is actually a disincentive for many families to participate,” Miller said. “I believe Texas is the only state that requires a fee for families who are earning just above 100 percent of the federal poverty level.”
Miller says the state needs to start spending more money on ECI. He also warns impending Medicaid reimbursements cuts are going to make it even harder to provide services. And in the meantime, Miller says the state needs to get a definitive answer on why black and Latino children were hurt the most by the cuts.
“We need to find out why that’s happening and we need to take corrective actions because it’s not by just happenstance that these communities are being underserved,” he said. “We really need to find out why that is.”
Rubin says the state should look into other consequences, too. Her research found these budget cuts led to fewer outreach positions, which could explain why some families hadn’t enrolled their kids in the program.
“So it could be that many families do not know about ECI or that pediatricians and child care providers are not referring kids to ECI for some reason,” Rubin said. “So, we do need to look into what is happening at the community level.”
The number of community groups providing services has also dropped from 58 in 2010 to 47 today. Contractors in El Paso and Tyler left the program recently, and a third contractor in Wichita Falls is scheduled to stop services this week.
However, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says they have "secured replacement contractors for all three areas impacted by contractors opting out of renewing."
This post was updated to reflect that state health officials have secured replacement contractors for some of the affected areas.
You can view the full study from Texans Care for Children below.