The greatest barrier to a meaningful life and employment opportunities for those who live with developmental and/or and psychological disabilities is not having a natural support network. When done correctly this kind of newtork can provide meaningful and sustaining levels of support for disabled individuals. Natural support networks are extended communities and they typically involve family members, faith communities, friends, work, programs in the neighborhood, and other acquaintances. In many natural support networks the primary role of professionals is to provide clinical services and the extended community provides support services.
Natural support networks are basically a turning back of the clocks to a point in history when families, churches, and neighborhoods were the principle supports for individuals. While state agencies and professional providers know about the emphasize on natural support networks many other parts of American society have not received the message and there are many reasons why the word is not getting out to a larger audience. Because of the ongoing reduction in government funding, the states are going to use recovery based resources like natural support networks, but many in society prefer the use professional services.
The use of natural support networks has received resistance for a variety of reasons. Faith communities are resisting because of the behavioral health issues often associated with disabilities, they want to become places that are safe and removed from challenging behavior. The anti-domestic violence community has deep reservations about the disabled in family homes and neighborhoods, because they are opposed to aggressive behavioral symptoms. Families are resisting the idea of becoming care givers again, many have delegated care giving to professionals and programs. Social organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club are resisting because of liability concerns.
Because Medicaid provides a below market reimbursement to professional services and state resources for the disabled is often limited goverment agencies are heavely dependant on natural support networks. These networks are seen as a way of filling the gaps and providing support and pro bono services. One might think that at some point the state would open the purse strings and provide services and a better reimbursement to professional services, but this is not going to happen any time soon. This leaves government agencies and their case workers dependant on natural support networks for the foreseeable future.
Behavorial health agencies are very aware of the role natural support networks can be in the stablization of those who live with a psychological disabilties. This is especially true when someone is reentering society after inpatient care. Once they are stabilized they are released back into the community and without a natural support network the road towards destabilization starts all over again. Therefore, behavorial health agenices will be advocates of natural support networks and will explore ways of expanding them.
Over the last few years I have walked the streets and have seen the growing number of high and low functioning individuals with developmental and psychological disabilities living under highway bridges and in abandoned buildings because they have no place to call home and no natural support networks. So I think the time has come to make some serious decisions about how the disabled are cared for and supported.
Written by Dave Pflueger May 2016 (c) copyrighted by Pflueger. Dave is a former Correctional Chaplain of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and certified for mental health peer counseling.