Families afraid Webb Center will close

Mindy Miller picks-up her son Parker at the Carles Webb Center on Friday.

Parents of special needs children are shocked the Charles Webb Center likely will close at the end of the year because of state budget cuts.

"This being dropped on us like this is just devastating. We're going to fight to try to save the center," Mindy Miller of Ravenel said.

Miller's son Parker, 8, is enrolled in a class for educable mentally disabled children at Drayton Hall Elementary School. After school, he takes a bus to the Webb Center on Evergreen Street where he is picked up when his parents leave their business, Miller Signs, about 6 p.m.

Parker, who has Fragile X syndrome, is developmentally delayed by about three years. He has been at the center for nearly seven years. There is no other place like the Webb Center in Charleston County.

"It is a necessity," Miller said. "It is not a luxury."

Parents received word of the closing Thursday night.

The center, which has eight staffers, referred calls to Rick Magner, executive director of the Disabilities Board of Charleston County.

"It will be extremely difficult to keep the Webb Center open," Magner said.

The center has a $378,000 annual budget, but it is losing 80 percent of those funds because of the state budget crisis, Magner said. The center, which serves 30 children who range from infants to age 10, will stay open through December, but beyond that its future is uncertain, he said.

The Disabilities Board will continue to work with the affected families on child care solutions while exploring alternative funding for the center. The Webb Center kids are difficult to place in child care because they have conditions that require special attention such as autism, Down syndrome and mental retardation, he said. Churches, extended family, friends or schools might be avenues to explore for possible solutions, Magner said.

Another parent, Darneyelle Washington, said the state budget cuts threaten her child care and possibly her job. Her son, Tyler, 8, who is mentally challenged and has a heart defect, has been at the center since he was 8 months old. He attends Orange Grove Elementary School, and rides a bus at 2:30 p.m. to the Webb Center, where his mother picks him up after work. She is employed at the Disabilities Board of Charleston County as an early interventionist, which is a specialist who tries to find child care for kids like Tyler.

"The bad news just keeps coming. Right now, I don't know what I'm going to do with Tyler. I lose sleep over this. A normal day care does not want these children. You're leaving parents unable to work," she said. Washington plans to contact legislators about the issue. The state cut funding for five special needs kids day care centers. Four of them are in other regions.

Because of the state budget crunch, funding for the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs was cut 11.2 percent, or $21.5 million, said Lois Park Mole, the department's director of government and community relations. She said the department worked to keep the Webb Center open through December.

"As horrible as this is for the families, we did not want to have a situation where the people were being told that next week the service was over," she said.

A variety of state-funded services for 3,000 department clients will end because of budget cuts implemented by the General Assembly, Mole said.

"This is all about the state economy," she said.

Statewide, the department is working with 70 families of special needs kids to try to find alternative child care arrangements. Eleven of the kids at the Webb Center are there under the auspices of the department, she said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at pfindlay@postandcourier.com or 937-5711.