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Christina School District suspends statewide respite program for autism students

Delaware Public Media

Some parents of autistic children are upset about the suspension of a Christina School District respite program.

The program offered home care for children in the autism program while their parents are away. Eligible students’ families were able to get 24 hours a month and an additional 7 days a year. It goes away at the end of this month.

A Christina School District spokeswoman said the suspension is temporary. She said the demand for hours has risen 350 percent and the cost has gone up 400 percent in the past year.

Former Christina School Board member John Young said he believes overtime costs prompted the program's suspension. An audit released by the State Auditor in March shows some Christina respite workers make upwards of $100,000 per year when overtime is added to their paycheck.

The audit notes those overtime hours appear excessive. Young disagrees.

“The providers that are offering this service to our children are earning every single penny of this money," he said. "These children are, unfortunately, in a very unique position of being terribly difficult to care for in some cases.”

Lewes resident Arleen McClung said she’s used respite providers for her two children in the past when family wasn’t available to take care of them. She said she knows parents who've depended heavily on the program, and must scramble to find other options.

“Some people are really going to be hurt by it because they’ve got nobody else who can take care of their kids," she said. "And with the respite program, you’re getting someone who most of time knows your kid or at the very least understands autism.”

Autism Delaware is hosting a town hall in Lewes on Oct. 1st with the statewide autism director to answer questions about the program’s suspension.

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