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Christina School District strikes deal with state to restart autism respite program

Delaware Public Media

Christina School District is resuming autism respite services after the state agrees to shore up the program’s finances.

Gov. John Carney announced an agreement between his administration and Christina Tuesday, a day after state lawmakers and members of his cabinet met with school district representatives.

Christina suspended the respite program effective Oct. 1, citing dramatic increases in demand for services and costs.

Carney said the state will provide additional funding through this fiscal year in exchange for more oversight over the district’s management of the program.

A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said Christina asked for $750,000, but the state could chip in even more depending on the demand.

Carney said it’s a short-term solution that allows families to access services while a long-term fix is found.

“Obviously these are very important services for you know among the neediest of our children and so we’ve gotta you know try to find ways to make it work,” he said.

Autism Delaware Executive Director Brian Hall said he’s glad the state could intervene to help autistic children.

“I’m really enthusiastic that the governor has stepped up with the support of his team and found a way to really provide some support for these families who are in crisis,” he said.

Christina School District has agreed to report monthly service hours provided. It will also participate in a workgroup that will make recommendations on the long-term viability of the program.

That workgroup will be led by the Delaware Department of Education and include advocates, administration officials, state lawmakers, families, respite providers and educators.

The respite program offers 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.

District officials decided on Sept. 18 to suspend the respite program. They said the program cost more than $810,000 this past fiscal year as the student need for respite hours grew 350 percent.

Parents were notified on Sept 23 of the suspension. A Christina spokeswoman said families can immediately begin reserving respite services again.

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