Rally for fairness
A couple dozen FOCUS Inc. employees and After School Program students circled Eagle River Town Square for a half hour the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 23 to advocate for fair treatment of Alaskans with developmental disabilities.
Similar rallies took place the same day all over the state as part of the Key Coalition — one of Alaska’s largest supporters of people with disabilities — annual event.
One intent of the rally was to show that people with special needs are just as much a part of Chugiak-Eagle River as anyone else, said FOCUS care coordinator Snejana Ivanoska.
“We want to make the community aware they are a great part of the community,” she said.
Key Coalition is supporting four initiatives this year: Autism insurance reform; early intervention/infant learning programs; providing services to individuals who are at risk of being institutionalized or sent to out-of-state facilities; and continuing to reduce the number of individuals waiting to receive services.
During the rally, the group’s battle cry “No more waiting” was shouted in protest of the nearly 850 individuals who are on Alaska’s wait list. No one should have to wait for services, Ivanoska said.
“These kids can do great things,” she said. “But they need the right support.”
Key Coalition is asking the Alaska Legislature to draw a minimum of 200 people per year from the wait list.
Autism insurance reform is needed, Ivanoska said, because Alaska law currently doesn’t require insurance coverage for autism services.
Because autism requires specific professionals, services are expensive, Ivanoska said. Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 74 and House Bill 79, would require insurance companies to cover autism services.
Key Coalition supports the passage of both.
FOCUS (Family Outreach Center for Understanding Special Needs) executive director Seth Kelley was in Juneau last week advocating for all four Key Coalition initiatives.
Kelley said Chugiak-Eagle River is lucky to have state Reps. Dan Saddler, Bill Stoltze and Anna Fairclough, who all support special needs services.
“Those three legislators care that much, and they don’t really have to,” Kelley said.
The Complex Behavior Collaborative (CBC) would support individuals at risk of being institutionalized or sent to facilities Outside. The CBC would reduce the risk of moving individuals to more restrictive and expensive facilities, and help to keep them in Alaska, according to Key Coalition.
Currently, the state pays for individuals to receive out-of-state treatment, Ivanoska said.
“It’s not just more expensive, but it’s hard on the family and hard on the kids,” she said. “We want to keep families together.”
Key Coalition is asking that $650,000 be added to the fiscal year 2013 budget to support CBC’s initiative.
Key Coalition is also asking for $3 million to support infant learning programs for children from birth to age 3.
Key Coalition estimates providers are projected to see an increase of 1,022 children in need of services for fiscal year 2013. That’s due to the passage of a recent federal law requiring all children under age 3 involved in substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect be referred to infant learning programs, Kelley said.
FOCUS’s Infant Learning Program has grown from 40 local kids to more than 100 around the state, said the program’s deputy director, Lizette Stiehr. In addition to Chugiak-Eagle River, FOCUS now serves families on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and in Cordova and Valdez via satellite, she said.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in numbers of referrals,” Stiehr said.
Despite the added demand, there has been no increase in funding to support infant learning programs, Kelley said.
Stiehr, who grew up in Indiana when special needs services were nonexistent, said the country has made huge strides in accepting people’s differences.
And Eagle River-based FOCUS is a great example, she said.
“Here, we are making families work,” Stiehr said. “We are making communities work.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org