Melissa Hankins has struggled for 21 years to find consistent and quality care for her daughter with special needs, Alexis “Lexy” Hankins, now 21.
Hankins recently opened Bella’s Salon in Franklin Street in downtown Martinsville, and her husband, Clifton Barrow, has just opened Roosky’s Bar & Grill near West Church Street. Alexis attended Magna Vista High School where she was crowned the homecoming queen in 2018, the year of her graduation. With the help of an assistant, Lexy made it through the public school system.
Melissa Hankins said because standard day care was not enough, she rather had a nurse come to Lexy. However, it was difficult, she said, because “not everyone wants to work with children with special needs, especially when they have to change diapers, feed them, bathe … it’s hard work.”
Lexy’s aunt, Sierra Barrow, is a registered nurse who at times served as Lexy’s assistant. Lexy’s experience is part of what inspired Barrow to want to open a special needs daycare, called The Barrow Center, in Martinsville.
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Barrow worked in the local emergency department before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida, and then to Greensboro, North Carolina, before returning to the Martinsville area. She has also worked in maternity and delivery and emotional care management.
She is now a training program manager for a care management agency that serves Medicaid clients, works in professional development and education, quality improvement, coaching CCM preparation courses, and assisting in building initiatives and programs.
“To keep fighting for services that were not available, not to have childcare to take her, as well as so many other children around here,” was challenging, Barrow said. “What struck me even more” was from experiences as “a pediatric care manager, where I was embedded in a pediatric palliative care clinic in Greensboro.”
She said that seeing the struggle of those parents who had children in that clinic was an eye-opening experience that, when she returned to her home community, inspired the idea of The Barrow Center.
“The Barrow Center will be Martinsville and Henry County’s first special needs center for children,” Barrow said. It will be licensed by the Virginia Department of Education as a therapeutic child care center to provide day care for infants and children up to the age of 17 who have special needs from all types of developmental issues, including, but not limited to, retarded development, autism and cerebral palsy.
“I know very special need parents here who constantly say that they cannot go into childcare or aftercare,” Barrow added. “So the need is here.”
Barrow implemented her business plan through the Gauntlet, a 10-week intensive program for small businesses, with the goal of developing business knowledge and receiving help from business people. It will operate as a non-profit organization, and its first fundraising event will be a gala Saturday at TAD Space in downtown Martinsville.
“Now just, we will be able to take any child,” she said. Together with day care, the center will provide procrastination care and contract local therapy facilities to provide internal therapy for speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Barrow said she intends to place a large age group at the center, from 0 to 17 years old. A standard day care center will generally only take children up to the age of 11.
I think it’s important to say… she’s trying to provide a very good service, ”said Melanie McLarty, director of Smart Beginnings. “She wants to do what I would consider a wrapping service for that family … to connect them to the resources they need not just childcare.”
Barrow’s mission fits right in with a need identified by Workforce Foundations, an initiative launched by the Harvest Foundation to improve the network of factors, such as housing and childcare, that affect people’s ability to work. .
In October 2020, the United Way received about $ 300,000 in funding, between the Appalachian Regional Commission and, in a corresponding amount, the Harvest Foundation, for its Workforce Foundations project, managed by Smart Beginnings.
The Workforce Foundations project looks at four key aspects of childcare: its availability, quality, affordability and proximity.
A 2019 survey by Harvest found that a third of the 2,000 responses from families in the Martinsville and Henry County neighborhoods identified a need for more child care options for children with special needs.
“There is a need in this area,” said Ashley Taborn, Coordinator of Smart Beginnings Child Care Business Development.
ARC is offering ten grants of up to $ 10,000 to help child care centers add slots for children with special needs. Grant recipients also receive technical support from Taborn as well as business assistance from Michael Scales of the Longwood Small Business Development Center.
One program in the area, the YMCA Early Learning Center in Collinsville, which serves children ages 2 to 5, has applied and funding has been granted to provide for five slots in its program for children with special needs, Taborn said. . The YMCA used the funding to hire staff to bridge the gap that allowed them to open the five slots for children with special needs, she said.
The Bulletin called the YMCA on Friday and emailed for comment, but had not yet received a response by the end of the day.
According to Smart Beginnings Early Education and Family Resource Coordinator Ruth Anne Collins, some children with special needs are in day care, but it works more on a case-by-case basis with arrangements made between program directors and families.
Now that Lexy has graduated from the Henry County Public School system, where she had a personal assistant during the school day, Hankins said that “there really is no place Lexy can handle because she has a one-to-one a tool is needed. “
One problem with standard day care that takes in children with special needs, Barrow said, is that traditional child care centers are not always fully capable of caring for children with special needs because their care often requires special training outside of standard education.
Barrow said her center staff will be specifically trained to care for children with special needs. “I hope to focus on a lot of help from SPED [special education] teachers as well as any experienced CNAs or personal care assistants who have experience with children with special needs, ”she said.
“Because we are likely to have medically fragile children, we will be able to provide some nursing care services,” she said. “And because I am a registered nurse… if there is an emergency that arises, there are definitely nursing staff there to help with it.”
“I need someone who’s going to be there I can trust,” Hankins said. “And Sierra is wonderful. She is a nurse forever. ”
The Virginia Department of Education licenses day care, and it has a special level for therapeutic child care centers. Brandie Smith of the Virginia Department of Education has submitted a document setting out the requirements for opening a Therapeutic Child Care Center at doe.virginia.gov/cc/files/final-8vac20-780.pdf. People intending to open one of these centers will start by submitting an application to become a licensed Child Care Center through the Child Care Application Processing System.
The requirements include parental agreement; specific enrollment procedures to be established between the parent of the child and the program; individual assessment for therapeutic programs; individual service, education or treatment plan for therapeutic child care programs; presence of physical and mental health personnel or volunteers; specific staff-to-child relationship based on the severity of disability; specific daily activities; special equipment to accommodate the use of wheelchairs; plans for nutritional needs per child; and many more that go into deeper specification, depending on the needs of individual children.
Locally, Patrick and Henry Community College offer two certificates and one associate’s degree in early childhood education, according to early childhood education instructor Jan Harrison. The college offers a class that specifically focuses on caring for children with special needs. The P & HCC program credits are transferable to seven universities in Virginia that offer bachelor’s degrees in the field of early childhood education. However, she said the P & HCC certificate is enough to open a daycare.
Harrison said P & HCC day care graduates interested in specializing in special needs day care could switch to Radford University, which has a bachelor’s degree program in special education.
“Anything special needs are outrageous” in cost, Hankins said. “They mark the price as 10 times for a swing. You’d think it might be a thousand [dollars] – it’s probably five thousand. ”
The Barrow Center’s fundraising gala will help with the expenses associated with starting a business. It will be held from 19:00 to 23:00 at The TAD Space in East Church Street. It will be a formal event with a live DJ, food and cash bar. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com under The Barrow Center.
For more information on the proposed Barrow Center, Barrow can be reached at email@example.com or visit https://www.thebarrowcenter.org/.