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Woodlawn center offers kids with special needs an inviting place to play

When Michelle Hart was calling day care programs to find a place for her 2-year-old son, most told her they wouldn't be able to accommodate the child, who has developmental delays and experiences seizures almost every day.

Then Hart heard about World of Care, one of only a few programs in the state that provides day care, on-site nursing, occupational therapy and social work services to children with disabilities or health problems.

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"When I got a chance to tour the facility, I was very pleased. The staff were obviously familiar with kids with different needs, but it didn't have this institutionalized, medical feel to it," Hart said.

World of Care in Woodlawn is run by Parents And Children Together, a nonprofit organization that has struggled to meet operating costs. Many health care organizations are coping with state budget cuts and decreased private donations.

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PACT runs three other programs, including a program designed to help intellectually disabled adults raise their children, a day care program for homeless children and the Comprehensive Therapy Program, which offers a variety of services.

Early this year, PACT officials were concerned the organization would lose a portion of its state funding, which makes up about 60 percent of its $2 million budget. But after representatives from the program testified at the legislature about their plight, Christopher J. McCabe, state secretary of human resources, renewed PACT's child care block grant for nearly $100,000 to fund 12 slots for in World of Care for low-income families.

"I recognized the uniqueness of this service," McCabe said. "Most parents need day care for their children but parents of these children have very few options. Maryland is fortunate to have this type of resource available."

Established in 1981 and now affiliated with the Kennedy Krieger Institute, PACT serves more than 700 children in its four programs, including World of Care, which has 91 children. Children are referred by hospitals, pediatricians, infant and toddler programs and social service agencies. Eighty-seven percent of the parents who bring their children to PACT have low incomes.

The classrooms at World of Care look almost like those in any other preschool.

In the 4-year-old's room, brightly colored kites made by the children hang from the ceiling and pictures of sea creatures decorate the walls. Just before lunchtime, children sit in a circle and play "recall," telling their teacher what they did during morning playtime.

But David Beatty, registered nurse, stands at the nurse's station in the corner, preparing tube feedings for children who have difficulty feeding by mouth.

"Having a nurse's station right in the room means we don't have to interrupt the children's day to give them the care they need. A lot of these children are in and out of hospitals all the time. This gives them a chance to stay in a comfortable setting where they can still hear what's going on in the classroom," said Kristy Council, director of World of Care.

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In the same facility, children from World of Care can receive physical, occupational and language therapy at the Comprehensive Therapy Center.

"We try to make it a one-stop shop for parents so that they don't have to drive their children all over the place and interrupt their workday to get these services," said Audrey N. Leviton, executive director of PACT.

Hart said that enrolling her son, Jackson Bristow, in World of Care has given her the opportunity to return to her work as a nurse at Johns Hopkins, advocate for children with disabilities and "have a life."

"It's such a relief to know that during the day he is going to be in a warm and caring environment," Hart said. "When I bring him into school every morning, he kicks his little feet around in anticipation. He's so excited to be here."


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