WXXI AM News

What's next for Stepping Stones families? State agencies, local providers rush to find solutions

Jun 30, 2017

Credit freeimages.com/Anissa Thompson

It won't be a holiday weekend of rest or relaxation for many local parents of children who have disabilities.

Nearly 200 families with special needs kids are working quickly with state agencies and local  providers to find daycare, preschool, and after school programs for their children following the abrupt closure of Stepping Stones Learning Center on Thursday.

"It was heartbreaking to hear some of the families talk about the disruption, the suddenness of it. It's traumatic,” said Donna Dedee, president and CEO of Holy Childhood, one of the organizations working quickly to find space for some of the displaced children. “When you think about these particular students, they require consistency and they require the opportunity to transition. It's going to be a difficult transition for many of them."

Dedee and representatives of other local providers of services for children with disabilities were at last night’s closed door meeting between Stepping Stones leaders and families affected by the center’s closing.

Some parents won't be able to go to work next week because they don't have daycare for their kids.  Dedee says Holy Childhood can accommodate some students in its afterschool respite and other programs, but many other schools and organizations, such as CP Rochester, Hillside, and Happiness House, and Mary Cariola Children’s Center, are scrambling to fill the sudden need.

"It really is on an individualized basis,” Dedee said. “There's such a variety of services that many children are receiving. We want to make sure that the children end up with the organizations that can best serve their needs."

But there aren't enough preschool slots in the community for special needs children. Holy Childhood is considering adding 2 to 3 preschool classrooms, but that will require the approval of the State Education Department, hiring of qualified staff, and the quick acquisition or renovation of extra space on the school's Henrietta campus or the rental of space at another nearby location.

"And (there is also) the financial consideration of the tuition rate relative to preschool in New York State,” Dedee said. “Providers who have been in this business for a long time will tell you the tuition rates do not cover the cost to educate. That is a financial problem that (puts) the viability of preschool programs in question."

Holy Childhood was prepared to offer an alternative to approximately 25 Stepping Stones students who were scheduled to attend a three day summer camp next week, but Dedee said insurance coverage could not be secured in time. The school will, however, provide space on its Henrietta campus for a previously scheduled summer camp for Stepping Stones students in August.