Gubernatorial candidates partake in forum on early childhood issues

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — The candidates for governor in Rhode Island met for a forum Tuesday to answer questions about the issues facing our children. The candidates discussed a wide range of topics impacting young. Some of those topics included funding for the Head Start program, paid leave, early intervention childcare funding, and more.

The event was coordinated by Children’s Friend and the Right from the Start Campaign and was moderated by ABC 6 News anchor Doreen Scanlon.

All five candidates in attendance, which included Matthew Brown, Helena Buonanno Foulkes, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Ashley Kalus, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, all said they will turn around what they call failures and oversights of recent governors by putting funding into the Head Start programs as well as early interaction.

All candidates agreed on a major point of the forum, implementing more structure in DCYF, to fill positions that have been left vacant through recent administrations. In the last three years, and in five of the past seven, the Department of Children, Youth and Families has been led by an acting director.

“We have a system that doesn’t work, and even when we look at the recent actions the governor took to fill some of the 90 open positions at DCYF. Where did they come from?” asked Helena Buonanno Foulkes, a Democratic candidate for governor. “From the nonprofit organizations that were serving the children and families. It didn’t solve the problem.”

 

Another topic they covered was access to early intervention. It’s a program for infants and toddlers who have developmental disabilities.

It is open to all children at no cost; however, a child only qualifies for services until he or she turns three. Research shows birth to age 3 is important for brain development.

Jealisa Alves’ son Angel is part of the program. Several months ago, she noticed that he was mumbling when he spoke.

“I could see that he wanted to say more, but couldn’t,” Alves said.

She knew early intervention would make a difference. The program would be able to provide him with speech and motor therapies to help him communicate. Alves waited just over a month for a specialist to get in touch with her and start working with Angel.  She’s one of the lucky ones.

There are currently 650 children on the waitlist for early intervention according to Children’s Friend.  The child welfare agency serves hundreds of kids in our area but cannot possibly reach them all given staff limitations.

Alicia Moran, a supervisor for early intervention, says we are at a critical level of need right now.

The state has directed millions of dollars of COVID-19 relief money to address this crisis, but she says that is just a band-aid after years of inadequate funding.

“We really need to invest in long-term early intervention and increase reimbursement rates to a level that can support these programs, so we are able to go into the homes and provide these services for this really vulnerable population,” Moran said.

Moran has been getting intervention services for just 5 months and already mom has seen a big difference.

“I was surprised when he was saying all the words that he could say! He communicates way better than he was.  Before, he would just get upset and cry,” she said.

For this family, having Angel able to speak and say what he needs has changed everything for him.

Alves said, “My son if he can progress like this, he can do anything.”

Having tested positive for COVID-19, Gov. Dan McKee will no longer be able to be there to participate.  He will record closing remarks instead. At times during the forum, the other gubernatorial candidates took advantage of his absence and attacked his policies.

“Unlike Gov. McKee, I’ll prioritize naming permanent directors to DHS and DCYF Fully staff agencies. I won’t leave the agencies understaffed chronically,” said Matthew Brown, a Democratic.

Categories: News, Rhode Island