ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Early childhood therapists across New York are saying a new policy for background checks is preventing them from fulfilling legally-binding treatment plans. The regulation went into effect in September.
The state did not hold a public hearing on it and a public comment period ends Monday.
The new policy affects a variety of professionals who work with kids, like speech and physical therapists. They say the problem is with the New York Office of Children and Family Services. The regulation requires anyone working at a licensed childcare center to have a background check.
Therapists agree that the background checks are important. They already get checks through state and local agencies. But the Office of Children and Family Services will not recognize them and won’t let them get the new ones.
Gretchen Jacobs is a speech therapist and the director of early childhood centers for Racker, which specifically works with children with developmental needs. She said therapists are required to follow a specific treatment plan with students, referred to as I.E.P.s, Individual Education Plans.
For example, Jacobs explained that an I.E.P. will specify that treatment be one-on-one or in a group. That’s determined based on what will be best for a child’s progress.
However, they cannot do that if they are not allowed to take a child out of a busy classroom for a session.
“It’s definitely their regulation that causing non-compliance with children’s Individual Education Plans,” Jacobs said, referring to the state OCFS.
The plans explain a child’s diagnosis, the treatments needed, and when and where they are to happen. Often the plans spell out that treatment must take place in a separate space from the child’s classroom. The plans are legally-binding agreements worked out with the child’s school district, the county department of health and other therapy providers.
Until the new regulation went into effect, therapists regularly worked with children one-on-one in another room of the childcare center.
For now, therapists can only see children in the presence of an authorized childcare worker who’s had the new background checks. If that is not possible, they must conduct sessions with a child in the classroom, which can be disruptive.
“It is interfering and affecting therapists with being compliant with children’s I.E.P.s,” Jacobs said.
No one from the Office of Children and Family Services would speak to WSKG. In a statement, officials said they are aware of the problem and working on a response.