It’s a parent’s nightmare—one day—out of the blue, your princess, your first- born, your two-year-old daughter, loses her ability to speak. There’s no identifiable reason and my wife and I were devastated.
This story has a happy ending because, fortunately, we live in Fairfax County. I hope that no one reading this ever needs one of our human services programs, but, should that happen, it’s comforting to know that Fairfax County has a commitment to all of its residents, regardless of their abilities.
When this mutism struck, my daughter was referred to the Infant Toddler Connection (ITC) at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board.
I’ve worked for Fairfax County for more than 16 years but I had never heard of this organization. After months of therapy through the ITC, my daughter recovered her speech and is communicating fluently. In fact, like most four-year-olds, she never stops talking and I have a new appreciation for the voices of young children and for the ITC.
Not only did the ITC change my life, but it potentially saved the County a far more costly intervention later. Think about what intense speech therapy would have cost our school system and then compare that cost to the far smaller cost of early intervention.
Alarm bells went off when I heard that the ITC was going to stop admitting early intervention clients because of state budget cuts. As a parent, an elected official, and a taxpayer, I am appalled and more than appalled—I am outraged. Not only are these budget cuts abdication of our moral responsibility to our children but they are a poor financial decision.
Early intervention is the key to managing or healing developmental disabilities. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to abolish programs for children, and then a few years down the road, pay a much larger bill for critical services for them when they are older.
As an elected official, I’m in the unique position of hearing about the many excellent services we provide at the local level. As a parent who has used those services, I am profoundly grateful to our taxpayers and their support.
I’m not blind to the financial constraints of the Great Recession and its impact on our state and local budgets, as well as individuals’ budgets. However, cutting preventative programs makes no financial sense. That’s like investing in a new car, not making routine repairs, and wondering why a more costly bill for an overhaul has come due.
Virginia has shortchanged our human service needs for a long time and Fairfax County has stepped into the gap and shouldered the costs of providing these services for our residents. Now we need to step up again.
My wife and I may never know why our daughter went mute. We do know, however, that every time our daughter speaks we thank our lucky stars that we can call Fairfax County home. I aim to keep it that way—for all our residents and all our children.