Planning the Future of Your Special Needs Child

By Hillary D. Freeman, Esq.

Families of children with special needs have many things to consider when planning for the future, such as where the individual will live, what their daily life will be like and who will care for them. Planning is especially important in these cases as there is often specific eligibility criteria the individual has to meet to access such services in addition to long waitlist for the services your child may be entitled - waitlists which could be 5-10 years long.
  • Here are some factors to consider in planning for your child's future:
  • Will my child be able to independently make personal decisions over his personal and financial affairs? If not, would guardianship be appropriate? Learn more about Guardianship here.
  • What will my child be doing during the day after he or she graduates from high school? College? Day program?
  • Is my child registered with the appropriate state agencies that will be responsible for providing services after high school? (NJ: DDD or DVRS; PA: MH/MR or OVR) Will my child need SSI and/or Medicaid when he or she turns 18?
  • Will my child be living independently, at home, supervised apartment or a group home?
  • Can my child inherit money outright when we pass away or will it jeopardize government benefits?

Adult Day Programs

Depending on severity of the child's disability, some students may go to college while others may be in need of supported employment through job coaching and/or an adult day program. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services ("DVRS") in New Jersey and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation ("OVR") in Pennsylvania both help persons with disabilities prepare for, obtain, or maintain employment on an individualized basis.

For those individuals with more severe disabilities, services may be available the Division of Developmental Disabilities ("DDD") in New Jersey and the county based Mental Health/Mental Retardation system in Pennsylvania. These services may include but not be limited to job coaching, job placements in a workplace or day program, and/or access to money to develop your own individualized program through self-directed support services.

In many of these cases though, funding is extremely limited and as such, there may be waitlists to access such services. Therefore, it's important to plan early to maximize your child's chances to receiving such service when the time is right.

Residential Placements

The Division of Developmental Disabilities ("DDD") in New Jersey and the county based Mental Health/Mental Retardation system in Pennsylvania are also the state agencies that are primarily responsible for making residential placements available to individuals with developmental disabilities. Placement options range from group homes, in which several individuals with disabilities live together and receive around-the-clock care, to supervised apartments and supported living programs in which an individual lives on his or her own and receives training and periodic visits from support staff. It may also be possible to secure services to allow an individual to remain in his or her family’s home with supports and services.

Similar to day services, funding for residential placements is also very limited and therefore is offered based on urgency of one's situation. Factors that the agencies consider include, but are not limited to, the age and health of the parents and the severity of the individual's disability. In both states though, there are long waitlists for such services --so it is vital that the individual with the disability be placed on the appropriate waitlist as early as possible.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is available to people whose disabilities prevent gainful employment, provided countable resources are under $2,000 and monthly income is less than approximately $850. Parental income and resources are deemed available to children under eighteen living with their parents. People who qualify for SSI automatically receive Medicaid. Because the income and resources of parents are counted until the child turns 18, many people with disabilities fail to qualify for SSI until then. Income and resources of a sibling are never deemed to a sibling with disabilities, regardless of his or her age, whether the sibling with the disability lives with him or her, or whether the non-disabled sibling has been appointed as guardian of the individual with special needs.

Medicaid is the primary funding source for adult services, so it is important for individuals with disabilities to qualify for such of they will be in need of the services described above as an adult.

  • To be eligible for Medicaid, an individual must:
  • Be determined to be blind or disabled by either the Social Security Administration or by the Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services;
  • Meet the general requirements for New Jersey or Pennsylvania Medicaid - resident of New Jersey or Pennsylvania;
  • Be financially eligible.

As explained in other sections, an individual may not have more than $2000 in resources to be deemed financially eligible to access Medicaid benefits. Once your child turns 18, the government does not consider parental resources in determining whether your child is financially eligible for Medicaid benefits.

Special Needs Trusts

Since the services described above are typically needs-based services, it is vital that parents take steps necessary to ensure their child does not inherit money or other resources that will deem the child ineligible for government benefits. Instead of leaving money to the special needs child outright, parents or other caregivers can establish a Special Needs Trust to hold the resources for their special needs child. This plan will enable the child to continue receiving services through SSI and Medicaid, and have the other resources available to supplement the supports the government provides. This is an important step in ensuring that your loved one with special needs is taken care of for as long as they need support --whether the child with special needs is still a minor or is now an adult.

Contact Freeman Law Offices, LLC today by calling (609) 454-5609 or using the "Contact Us" form to learn more about how to access services for your loved one with special needs.

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