When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, Wichita, Kansas, nurse Heather McFann was at a loss as to what to do for her 11-year-old son, Hunter, who has autism.
Not only had Hunter’s school closed due to COVID, but the disability service center where he went after school also had to close. It wasn’t safe to have kids with special needs gathering in one place.
But for McFann, a single mother with an hourlong commute, it also wasn’t safe to leave Hunter home by himself. She felt as though she had to choose between her job and her child.
“It was like pure panic,” McFann said, adding that hiring someone to look after Hunter every day would be prohibitively expensive, “because he has the autism label.”
Families all over America were feeling the same stress, as disability service providers were forced to close their congregate services.
That not only left families in the lurch but left the providers, who generally work on very slim margins anyway, out significant revenue.
“Things were really pretty dire for many of our members through the early months of the pandemic,” said Donna Martin, the director of state partnerships and special projects for ANCOR, a trade group that represents organizations that provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Some organizations, like the one in Wichita that serves McFann’s son, Rainbows United, were able to pivot and find new creative ways to deliver services during the pandemic, but only after their state governments allowed flexibility on regulations governing who was eligible for services in certain settings. Read more here.