Pandemic Changes Services for Special Needs Children

April 10, 2020, 6:35 p.m. ·

Anne Constantion (Photo from CRCC Facebook page)

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Among the many people whose lives have been disrupted by the coronavirus are children with special needs. One organization that serves those children has made big changes to the way it’s working.

For decades, CRCC – formerly known as the Children’s Respite Care Center has been serving medically fragile children in the Omaha area – kids with conditions ranging from unique genetic disorders to Down Syndrome and autism.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, they were providing preschool for children up to age 5, and care before and after school for kids who attended school in Omaha-area districts. That care included medical support and occupational, physical, speech and behavioral health therapy for about 450 children, provided at two centers in Omaha. But President and CEO Anne Constantino said the pandemic changed all that.

“We are still serving our complex medical kiddos. We are doing it in their home environment. Because of the medical needs that the children have, they are very likely to have a suppressed immune system. So bringing them all into a center together exposed to any types of germs, regardless of if it's the COVID-19 or just germs in general. We knew that that was not going to be the safest environment to be able to provide care for these families,” Constantino said.

Now, Constantino said, CRCC staff are going into the children’s homes, and in the case of the Millard School District, coordinating with their online instruction in their individualized education program, or IEP.

“Staff are working hand-in-hand with a special education teacher at that school for that child's teacher to provide those lesson plans and what those IEP goals are. And then our staff that are in the home with the child are really able to support that continued education and work on those education goals with those children and with those families,” she said.

And using telehealth, CRCC can provide therapy during this stressful and scary time for children and families, not only in their traditional service area but throughout the state. Meanwhile, Constantino said the centers where the kids used to be cared for are being repurposed to provide child care for essential workers.

“I recognized that our community was really going to need some additional support for our nurses and our doctors, our first responders, because they are going to be and have been asked to step in to keep us safe and healthy. And those families, most of those childcare that they would traditionally be using are not open,” she said.

With many daycares closing, she says charitable contributions have enabled CRCC to offer an alternative for families of people fighting the pandamemic.

“We just felt like it was a way for us to have one less thing that our first responders and essential personnel needed to worry about. So we were able to connect with the philanthropic community as wel,l and have had amazing support from that community, to be able to now provide this child care in our centers for essential personnel at the hospitals as well as first responders free of charge,” she said.

So far, she said, they’re providing daycare for about 20 children, and they have room for about 120 more.