Financial Help for Special Needs Children

The diagnosis of your child by your pediatrician as being "special needs" can cause a myriad of emotions for parents. Among those feelings, one of the many issues a parent is overwhelmed with is how they are going to help their child without depleting their family's finances.

"Most parents of special needs children know they need help - but they either don't know where to turn, or time and money pressures leave them paralyzed into inaction," says Joseph D. Blair, senior vice president and senior financial adviser at Univest Bank and Trust Co, who has made it his personal mission to provide parents of special needs children with the information they need to make wise financial decisions.

In many cases, the first conversations about assistance occur in the pediatrician's office. Depending on the age of the child and the type of disability, the doctor may refer the family to specialists or to schools, who may in turn provide guidance as to how to start the journey for funding.

It is important to note, according to Blair, that the road to finding assistance can seem long and winding, filled with potholes. Also, it does not end in childhood. Some of the greatest challenges face the families of adults with special needs (e.g., parents who want care for their adult child after they have passed on).

Although attorneys and financial advisors may seem as if they would have helpful information, few professionals have the expertise in special needs to give helpful guidance. For example, the professionals who advise families with special needs children must pay close attention to how they use public and non-public funds.

"A well-intentioned broker, insurance agent or even lawyer may use the wrong words in creating a special needs trust and cause great hardship to a family with special needs," Blair says. "Even an attorney who says he practices in special needs may not stay current with the field. The answer: find advisors you can trust who know the unique challenges of special needs."

Blair explains, "Although we have many excellent administrative people in the schools, counties, state agencies and Social Security, they cannot provide a single roadmap to guide the parent for several reasons:
  • Every case has its own unique characteristics.
  • Each child's specific symptoms do not always fit well with the general terms of the administrative rules and regulations.
  • The time required to make an accurate diagnosis can range from weeks to years depending on the tests needed and the waiting periods for various procedures.  
  • Social Security Administration and state divisions of public welfare regulations are constantly evolving as policies change or funding goes up or down.
  • Some forms of financial assistance address symptoms or behaviors; others address causes or diagnoses. Unless parents know which method the source of financial assistance uses, valuable time can be lost in the application process.
  • Disabilities or behaviors often appear over time, not at the first diagnosis (Example: an autistic child may develop new symptoms years after the first diagnosis)."

Blair says that there are a lot of sources of information for parents including schools, support groups, other parents and online resources, to name a few, but these sources vary greatly in terms of accuracy of information and how complete their information is.

He stresses a key point: "a parent should persevere in seeking assistance even if a particular administrator or advisor cannot help with a specific request. In most cases, someone has found the answer before you."

So that we are all on the same page regarding what "special needs" is, Blair finds a simplistic way to define it is to draw a contrast between "special needs" children and "typical" children -- the special needs children require additional services beyond those given to typical kids. For example, within the educational system, special needs children may have IEP's, or Individualized Education Programs. Some children may continue in the mainstream classes with IEP's, while others may require separate schools to reach their full potential.

"As a financial professional, I believe quite passionately in the importance of a plan to guide decisions about funding, insurance and other questions. I have seen many cases where a financial plan lowers the anxiety of parents about caring for a child in the future. Some plans are no more than sales tools. It is important to obtain professional help with a plan from someone who is not motivated primarily by selling an annuity or an insurance policy," Blair says.

Some other important information Blair wants to share, both as the parent of a special needs child himself, as well as a financial professional, is that "early diagnosis and treatment are imperative for better results."

With autism, for example, experts say that we can make a huge difference if we start intensive therapy between 18 months and three years of age. In some cases, a definitive diagnosis is not available until well past the third birthday. This puts great pressure on our pediatricians and strains the resources of our specialized facilities. The medical profession is making advances in this area, however. The main point for parents is this: early diagnosis is critical.

For further information, you can reach Mr. Blair at 215-721-8386 or at    
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