Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Future Planning for Persons with Disabilities

As a parent of a child with a disability, it can be frightening to think about the future. I have written before about how I worry what will happen to my son when I am no longer able to care for him, when I am no longer here, or when his needs surpass my ability. It's a terrifying thought. Sure, we are managing quite well right now, but the truth is that children with disabilities grow up to be adults with disabilities, and with that comes a whole other host of challenges.

Leighton Jay is a parent of a young man with a disability. He has been a strong advocate for his son, and for individuals whose lives are affected by intellectual or developmental disabilities. He is committed to facilitating the empowerment of people who are often marginalized, and who live with significant challenges in their lives. He is passionate about enabling all people to have meaningful roles in society, exercise self-direction in their lives and develop friendships and social connections.

We were fortunate to have Dr. Leighton Jay, Global Disability Expert here in Newfoundland recently, all the way from Perth, Australia, to share his wisdom and experience with regards to future planning for persons with disabilities.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living and the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL hosted several information sessions across the province while Leighton was in town.

I attended a workshop on 'Claiming Full Citizenship for Persons with Disabilities', and another on 'Shared Responsibility'.

"When it comes to supporting a person with a disability, parents and caregivers can't always be expected to do it alone. A 'Shared Responsibility' approach looks at how individuals, families, community groups and government can all work together to make sure that people are supported and have a plan for their future."

This session also covered information on housing for persons with disabilities, supported decision making, future planning, and home supports. There were lots of thoughts expressed and ideas shared, and it was wonderful to see so many people with invested interested in the well-being of persons with disabilities coming together to support each other and to learn how we can best care for our loved ones with the resources that are available to us.

I was also happy to attend a Capacity Building Workshop, in which Leighton Jay spoke about the new Individualized Funding policy that will be implemented by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador next year.

Individualized Funding is a new way of delivering disability supports, offering much more individual choice and focus on what the person wants or needs. Individualized Funding allows persons with disabilities to be their own boss - to have choices in who supports them, who is invited into their home, and who is (or is not) involved in their personal care. It hinges on recognizing and respecting the ability of the person to make decisions about matters which directly impact their daily life. 

"Individualized Funding recognizes that funding, services and supports should not define the individual's needs, but should respond to, and be built around them. Further, it recognizes that these needs must be identified by the individual, and not by the professionals around them. Choice and greater control by individuals over the supports and services that are part of their lives are key aspects of IF."

Individualized Funding already exists in six Canadian provinces, as well as in the United States and Australia, and it has been shown to achieve higher levels of satisfaction and enhanced inclusion for people with disabilities.  

Without getting into my own personal frustrations with the way community support services are currently delivered here in our province, I will just say that there are issues. The main problem, for me, is that the application is financially based, not needs based. For us, this means that even though my child has a severe and permanent disabling condition, we have never qualified for any type of support or service offered under the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's Community Supports Program (CSP).

I voiced my concerns at this meeting, and while I was in a unique situation around the table, I know that I am not unique in the community. There are many families like mine who have children with complex disabilities, children who are medically fragile, and who require 24 hour care. We know many families who are struggling to meet the needs of their children - trying to balance the doctors appointments with work, school, therapies, family life, home programs, medications, equipment needs, sleepless nights, hospital stays, reports and meetings and all of the other extras that come along with their child's condition. There are extra and significant costs in caring for a loved one with a disability. The financial burden is great, and the physical and emotional demands can be exhausting. Caregiver stress and burnout is a real thing and it could be prevented if families were offered some form of support - whether it be respite care, financial assistance for medical equipment, or another intervention service. 

As parents, we all desperately want to do the right things for our children, and we try our absolute hardest but sometimes we need help. They weren't lying about it taking a village. We are not meant to do this on our own.

I am excited that people are talking about these important issues. There are some wonderful components to the new Individualized Funding policy, but there is no plan to change the application process or the qualification requirements, so while I am happy to have been part of the discussion, it is unfortunate that the outcomes will likely not affect working families like mine.

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Leighton Jay, and to have had the opportunity to learn from him over a number of days. He has great ideas with regards to future planning for persons with disabilities, and he lives what he speaks. His experience and advice about helping to pave the way for a brighter future for children like mine is invaluable. Knowing there are new opportunities opening up for people with disabilities certainly gives me hope and empowers me going forward as I advocate for my son to have the best life possible. That is my dream for each of my children - simply, the best life possible.

To assist with future planning, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living is offering a two-part webcast series for families on 'Creating Financial Security for Persons with Disabilities'.
Part One: The Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) - Wednesday, November 29 at 7:30 p.m. NST 
Part Two: Financial & Estate Planning - Tuesday, December 4 at 7:30 p.m. NST
To register, click HERE!

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