Recently, Peter Berns, Executive Director of The Arc of the United States, visited Spokane to discuss challenges facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families across the nation. Peter noted that among the 50 states, Washington ranks 41st in its per capital investment in community-based services for people with I/DD. Forty-first. If this were a national test, like the ACT where a student’s ranking reflects his or her standing among peers, that number puts Washington in the 18th percentile for support for its most vulnerable citizens.
That number is even more disturbing when one considers what is being called the “Silver Tsunami”—a wave of Baby Boomers entering their 70s who have a son or daughter with I/DD at home. Many of these families have never applied for services for their son or daughter (like long-term living support) through the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA). The reasons vary. Some never thought their child would outlive them. Others are confident that a sibling will step in when they are gone. Some just have not thought about it.
The truth is some 45,000 parents in Washington state are approaching the age where they will no longer be able to care for their adult son or daughter with I/DD—and have no plan in place when that day comes. If they die suddenly or get sick or injured, if a sibling isn’t able to undertake the care as planned, or whatever, those individuals will be forced to apply for state services just to keep a roof over their heads.
But if they have never bothered to connect to DDA, how will that happen? Engaging “the system” is a complex and often time-consuming process for which there are no guarantees. By waiting, parents might be setting their loved one up for a heart-wrenching crisis in which crucial decisions about how and where to live are made in haste—or worse, desperation.
The “Silver Tsunami” is a crisis of monumental proportions that Washington’s 18th percentile support system is in no way prepared to handle. That system is already overwhelmed—even now people struggle to find non-family housing for their loved one. Imagine 45,000 more people stepping forward in the next 10 years in desperate need of long-term living support. Tsunami is right.
What will those families do?