By Cameron Vigliano
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Central Virginia residents packed a legislative committee hearing Wednesday to call for more funding for child mental health services, more help for individuals with intellectual disabilities and tighter regulations of private homes providing day care.
Parents and other citizens voiced those concerns at a joint meeting at Capitol Square of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees. It was one of five public hearings held across the state on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed amendments to the state budget.
Several citizens called for more funding for child psychiatric services. They said flaws in the state mental health system led to two tragedies in Virginia in recent years: the 2013 attack on Sen. Creigh Deeds by his son, who then committed suicide; and the massacre of 32 people by a deranged student at Virginia Tech in 2007.
“I am here today to ask that you expand the budget to provide increased availability of child mental health services to all of our children,” said Beth Hilscher, a former Rappahannock County resident whose daughter was among those murdered at Virginia Tech.
Another issue was expanding funding for the state’s Medicaid Intellectual and Developmental Disability waiver program. It provides home and community-based services for individuals with mental disabilities.
Steve VanHuss of Hanover County said that without an ID waiver, he or his wife would have to stay home and care for their 24-year-old daughter, who has Down syndrome and Type 1 diabetes and is autistic. The waiver provides financial relief for intellectually challenged people and their families.
“She’s had the waiver now for two years, and it’s basically saved our family,” VanHuss told lawmakers. “I’ve got two other boys in college, which we would not be able to afford to do that with the economy the way it is.”
According to The Arc of Virginia, an advocacy group for people with special needs and their families, about 8,500 Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are on the waiting list to receive an ID waiver. Some states like Michigan and Kentucky, as well as the District of Columbia, provide enough waivers so that they don’t have a waiting list.
The last issue brought an especially somber mood to the meeting room in the General Assembly Building. The parents of a 1-year-old boy killed in a home day care fire in Chesterfield advocated tighter regulations of such home services.
Jacquelyn Allen, the mother of the boy killed, called for legislation requiring private day care providers to have an emergency response plan and a list of the children under their care for first responders. Allen also wants more severe penalties for day care providers who break the law.
The person who ran the at-home day care in Chesterfield, Laurie F. Underwood, has been charged with a class 1 misdemeanor in the death of Allen’s son, Joseph. Authorities say Underwood did not have a license to provide day care for eight or more unrelated children. The state requires providers to have a license when they have five or more unrelated children under their watch.
The General Assembly will convene next Wednesday to consider amendments to Virginia’s state budget and other legislative matters.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.