Federal cuts are now stopping local child care workers from screening some toddlers for developmental delays and disabilities.
Automatic across-the-board cuts in funding began this year because Congress could not agree on where to make the cuts needed to address the deficit.
At Early Head Start in Schenectady, the cut in funding left the agency without enough money to pay all of its employees. They laid off three workers who fan out to screen at-risk children in their homes.
With those layoffs, they could not reach as many children. The next 12 children who would have been helped by the program this fall were instead placed on a waiting list, along with more than 100 others.
That has childcare workers worried some developmental delays will go unnoticed until children enter kindergarten.
“Less children are getting recognized, and it just has a domino effect on their education,” said Jennifer Sandshaw, supervisor of special education at Early Head Start.
She said intervention works best when delays are identified early, and in many cases, children can catch up in time to enter school without any continued problems.
Pediatricians can also screen children — but only if parents actually take their children to a doctor.
“I’m afraid many parents aren’t keeping up with well-child appointments,” said Sharon Hutchinson-Jones, assistant director of Parson’s Learning Center, which includes Early Head Start.
Without a pediatrician to ask probing questions, she said, many parents won’t realize their children need help.
“They don’t know what milestones to look for,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, toured the facility Friday to get a firsthand look at the impact of the automatic budget cuts. He said research has proven early education is the key to helping low-income children perform well in school.
“There is no replacing that early childhood,” he said. “As they go into school, it becomes worse and worse. More sequestration will continue to compound the damage.”
He said he wants the leaders of both parties to sit down and hammer out a deal on a federal budget. That way, he said, they could “use a scalpel” to cut bad or inefficient programs, instead of cutting a little from every program.
“Sequestration is the best way to keep a bad program alive,” he said. “We could do a real budget, sit down at the table, and do it in daylight. Let them see the differences between a Democratic budget and a Republican budget, Senate and House. And if you’re proud of that budget, stand for it.”