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Audit shows kids with disabilities not getting vital services from state program

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  • Staff Report 

An audit conducted by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that many infants and toddlers with disabilities did not receive therapeutic and support services available through New York’s Early Intervention (EI) Program or faced delays in care. The audit was released on Tuesday.

The Department of Health (DOH) oversees the EI program at the local level, which is operated by 57 counties and New York City. The program provides services to children under three years of age who have a confirmed disability or established developmental delay, including speech pathology or audiology, occupational or physical therapy, psychological services or support services for children and families.

However, from July 2018 through February 2022, approximately 14 percent of the 189,000 children with a suspected or confirmed disability referred to the EI program never received an evaluation, and five percent were still pending. Of the 95,000 children who did receive an evaluation and an individualized plan, nearly 51 percent did not receive all types of the therapeutic services to which they were entitled, 28 percent did not receive authorized services within 30 days, and three percent did not receive any of their authorized therapeutic services.

“The Department of Health needs to address the underlying reasons why children are not receiving the services they are entitled to, why services are often delayed, and how access can be improved,” said DiNapoli.

The DOH pointed to the absence of parental consent as the cause of many instances of denied or delayed services. However, case files rarely identified why consent was not given, why a parent withdrew their child from the program, why some children were referred to the program but were not evaluated, or why they faced delays in care. Officials in 10 municipalities told auditors that sometimes they were not able to reach a parent or there was a lack of service providers.

The audit recommended that the DOH identify why some children are not receiving services or are facing delays in care, take steps to understand disparities in accessing EI program services, regularly update the provider directory, and expedite a new web-based system to manage the program.

According to a report from the DOH, from July 2017 to June 2020, Black and Hispanic children were less likely to be referred to and evaluated for the EI program compared to white children. Black children were also less likely than white children to receive therapeutic services within 30 days.