Getting kids the services they need, helping new therapists pay school loans

In these days of drastic budget cuts for services, it’s heartening to know that many underserved children ages  birth to 5 will have access to the therapy services they need.

The Early Childhood Therapist Incentives Program is modeled after state and national programs that have successfully recruited almost 200 medical practitioners to underserved areas.

Among the health professionals being recruited are licensed physical therapists, speech/language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and mental health specialists (LPC). Successful applicants are provided a stipend and/or partial repayment of student loans in exchange for their agreement to serve in these areas.

The Arizona Department of Health Services will oversee the program through an agreement with First Things First, created in 2006.

First Things First was funded by Arizona voters through the Proposition 203 ballot initiative which set aside 80 cents from the sale price of each pack of cigarettes sold to fund the expansion of education and health programs for children 5 and younger.

So far, nine regional FTF councils have identified the need for therapists and have invested almost $1.4 million for the first two years of the incentives program.

Areas include Cochise County, Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), Gila County, Graham/Greenlee counties, North Pima County, Northwest Maricopa County, Santa Cruz County, South Phoenix, and Yuma County.

Applications are available at Eligible health professionals  may qualify for loan repayment, stipends, or both depending on the ZIP code where services will be provided.

“Children who don’t get the health services they need – such as speech therapy or mental health services – are much more likely to struggle once they enter kindergarten and more likely to need special education services,” said Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director of First Things First. “Through this program, we are able to bring these health professionals to the children who need them.”



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