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Parents demand pay hikes for children’s service workers

Protesters went straight to the corner office Wednesday to demand an increase in payment rates for workers who assist infants and young children, holding a “stroller-in” outside Governor Deval Patrick’s office with parents and children to bring attention to their cause.

Demonstrators want Patrick to increase the rate paid to early intervention programs and workers. Children may be eligible for early intervention services “if they have developmental difficulties due to identified disabilities, or if typical development is at risk due to certain birth or environmental circumstances,” according to the state.

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About 50 demonstrators, many with young children in strollers, held signs and clogged the hallway outside Patrick’s office. Before departing, leaders of the demonstration spoke to Patrick administration officials and the governor himself about the rate increases.

Alex Chatfield, an early education program director for Minute Man Arc in Concord, said this Friday will mark eight years since the state adjusted early intervention rates.

“That means eight years of rising program deficits, of staff receiving no cost-of-living increases, and early intervention services around the state suffering as a result,” Chatfield said.

Liz Lefrancois, who works at the Kennedy Donovan Early Intervention Center in Southbridge, said the cost of doing her job has gone up, but her pay has not changed. Lefrancoise said she buys many toys she uses in early intervention therapies, and the increased cost of gas makes it more expensive for her to travel to meet clients.

Sarah Scoville, a Bedford mother, said she has seen a turnover in therapists. “If they get a better opportunity, they are quick to change because it is so low-wage,” she said.

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Scoville’s 2-year-old daughter, Evelyn, has received early intervention, free of charge, since she was 9 months old because she had trouble with gross motor skills.

While rally leaders were addressing the demonstrators, Patrick emerged from a nearby elevator and briefly listened in on the calls for higher rates before entering his office without speaking to the crowd.

According to Maryann Mulligan from the Massachusetts Early Intervention Consortium, Patrick came back out more than an hour later and told the handful of remaining parents he hoped to work with them on the issue and encouraged them to engage the Legislature. Mulligan noted that the rates are set at the executive branch level.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz from state Senator Sal DiDomenico and state Representatives Louis Kafka, Steven Walsh, and Thomas Conroy, the lawmakers thanked Polanowicz for his efforts to address rates for the state’s early intervention program and asked the secretary when to expect new rate numbers.

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