Based on several individuals reporting that FSSA was planning to move the First Steps program from the Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services to another Division within FSSA, INARF through its contract lobbyist Kelli Waggoner, requested a meeting with FSSA Secretary John Wernert to discuss this issue.
On Tuesday October 11th Steve Cook, Pat Cockrum and Kelli Waggoner from INARF met with Dr. Wernert, Kylee Hope (DDRS Director) and Christina Commons (First Steps Director). INARF indicated interest in hearing if there are plans to move First Steps and if so what reasons were guiding such a proposed move.
Secretary Wernert indicated FSSA believes from legal counsel, no legislative change needs to take place to move First Steps from one division in FSSA to another. According to Secretary Wernert the main reasons for moving First Steps are:
INARF discussed the fact that they have 12 members providing First Step services, half as many as we had just a few years ago. INARF reviewed several long standing programmatic issues driven by State policy and practice including:
While Secretary Wernert acknowledged the impact of the issues identified by INARF on the First Steps program, he also seemed very clear that moving the program to the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning would not necessarily result in resolution of the programmatic issues identified by INARF.
INARF also indicated that the DDRS focus on “life course” planning and the integration of services and supports within the context of person, family and community seem to align with First Steps remaining in DDRS. It is also our belief that the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning primarily interacts with day care providers and that children on First Steps with the most significant developmental delays are not typically receiving day care services.
In conclusion, INARF representatives believe Dr. Wernert will move First Steps to the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning although no time frame for such a move is known. INARF will continue to have conversations with representatives and legislators regarding the First Steps program.