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Delaware officials search for money for autism respite program

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers and members of Gov. John Carney’s cabinet met Monday to find money to restart the Delaware Autism program’s respite services.

Christina School District suspended the respite program earlier this month citing what it calls excessive demand and cost.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-Newark) was one of the lawmakers at Monday’s meeting. He said the Office of Management and Budget is looking for money in the current fiscal year it can divert to the autism respite program.

"OMB needs to run some numbers, dig into the code and come up with here's how they think they could be part of the driving the solution going forward," he said.

That would help parents like Courtney Swift who say they can’t use an ordinary babysitter for their severely autistic children.

Swift said she needs someone who can de-escalate her daughter when she’s upset and keep her safe.

“She will run out the front door and run away and she’ll run into the street without any care," she said. "She could just get hit by a car.”

Courtney Swift said having those short breaks provided by the respite program is essential to reducing stress and anxiety as a parent.

“Our kids’ behaviors are more extreme, like I said," she said. "We deal with kids that age 14, not potty trained, not verbal, self-injury behaviors.”

Christina School Board member Elizabeth Campbell Paige said she’s heard from upset parents and expects to hear from more at tomorrow night’s board meeting.

"I, for one, can't speak for the whole board, but I always appreciate hearing how decisions impact families," she said. "I think that's important for all board members to hear those stories."

She said board members were not given a heads up about suspending the program and were not fully informed about the program’s financial struggles.

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