Governmental Benefits and the Special Needs Child

Governmental Benefits and the Special Needs Child By Susan Ingram

{2:48 minutes to read} In my next blog I will be discussing the various financial issues that affect the parents of a special needs child who are divorcing. Before doing that, however, I first need to describe the basic framework of governmental services and benefits that are provided to children and young adults with disabilities.

Public School System / Special Education

Once identified, whether at birth or at a later age, children with a developmental delay, physical disability or other special need receive services through their local county and/or school system. These services may include medical, therapeutic, educational or other support and are available to a child until graduation from high school, but not beyond the age of 21. These children are enrolled in special education and receive services from their school district which are detailed each year in an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Governmental Programs

While there are several federal governmental programs that provide benefits to disabled individuals, the two most important for the purposes of this discussion are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

Once a child ages out of the special education system, the now young-adult needs to receive his or her services and benefits through these two programs. SSI provides a modest amount of monthly income. Medicaid provides medical coverage, which also includes mental health services, medication, and home/institutional services. These are “needs-based” programs, which means that the individual must not exceed the low income and asset requirements in order to qualify for their services.

The overriding goal for parents is to make sure their child receives essential benefits and services, commencing with the public school system and continuing through the federal government programs.

My goal, as their divorce mediator, is to determine how much the parents understand about this complicated process. If they have not yet done so, I suggest they consult with specific experts — a special education and/or special needs attorney, and a divorce financial professional — who will guide them in making important decisions about their child.

Their informed decisions will be reflected in the divorce settlement agreement I prepare for them at the conclusion of the mediation.

More on that in my next blog…

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