By Josh Helmuth
September 2, 2016

After being forced to decrease 14 percent of its budget for the 2017 fiscal year, the Kansas Children’s Cabinet has been asked to cut another five percent for 2018.

The cuts could affect hundreds of families across the state, especially those with children on the autism spectrum.

About $3.3 million in cuts to Children’s Cabinet programs were approved for the current fiscal year.

Now, another $833,181 in new cuts would affect the child care quality initiative, early childhood block grant and the autism program.

“Any new families coming up, they would have it a lot tougher than we did,” said John Fetzer of Merriam.

His 2-year-old son, John, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in June.

Through University of Kansas Hospital’s Autism Diagnostic Team, which is funded by the Children’s Cabinet, professionals were able to come to his home to diagnose John, saving time and money.

“They can act a lot differently, or get upset, so it was really nice to have them come to the house,” said Fetzer.

It also avoided his family from joining a long waiting list, which is common for families looking for a diagnosis.

“Every place that does what we do has a wait list of six-plus months, pretty much. And the reason is, it takes three to four hours to administer the testing that you need to do, gather the information, all of that,” said Dr. Kathryn Ellerbeck, University of Kansas Hospital interim director for the Center of Childhood Health and Development.

The Beason family moved to the Kansas side of the metro for the autism programs. Their 2-year-old son, Adrian, was diagnosed in July.

“I don’t know when we would have been able to get him in and get that diagnosis when we’re talking thousands of dollars,” said Amanda Beason, Adrian’s mother. “Now they’re talking about cutting them and it’s heart-breaking.”

If the proposed cuts are approved, University of Kansas Hospital’s diagnostic program would be significantly reduced. The hospital’s telemedicine program, which allows specialists to diagnose remotely, may be impacted as well.

“There are families who have high deductibles. There are families with no insurance. And the grant was useful – from the Children’s Cabinet – to cover those people too. So that won’t be covered anymore,” said Ellerbeck.

Kansas Children’s Cabinet executive director Janice Smith said she’s trying to put together an alternative to the proposed cuts that would save autism programs from losing money.

“We’re submitting a proposal to restore all of the programs funded by CIF to the fiscal year 2015 amounts because there is no reduction in the tobacco money that’s coming into the state,” said Smith, referring to the Children’s Initiative Fund made up of settlement money to the state from large tobacco companies.

Smith said that money could make up for loss in cuts the state is asking for. However, she also said it’s important to understand the principle of the healthy investment into the autism programs specifically.

“Early Childhood block grant data is showing through a random sample that there’s an actual return on investment, or cost-avoidance … one to eleven. For every dollar that the state invests, they then in return get eleven dollars in future savings because of the reduction of services that children will need because they got identified early and received a high quality education early in life,” said Smith.

The state legislature likely won’t address the budget until January.

University of Kansas Hospital has been running its autism programs for eight years.

According to the CDC, currently about one in every 68 children is diagnosed with ASD.

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