Lives of Caring

Americans are better housed and more self-sufficient than at any point in their history. For one particular group, however, that reality is still a dream.

The group includes seniors with mental and physical disabilities or older parents who care for their disabled adult children. Many of them are still in need of respite care at home, or community housing to allow them to live fuller lives, including getting an education and entering the workplace.

Demand for these services will increase as the nation's population ages; many parents face their own needs, as well as those of their disabled children. With yawning state budget deficits, many programs to aid families in such situations are threatened.

In California, 21 centers that care for 170,000 people with developmental disabilities face an uncertain future and will run out of money by Sept. 15. By contrast, Massachusetts has proposed plans to offer housing and services to 1,500 people with disabilities by next year, despite the state's $2.5 billion budget deficit. Many of the people to be served are leaving institutions that are being shut down.

In recent years, states have turned to the federal government to pick up more of the costs of housing the disabled. But they have met with resistance, largely because of the anticipation of growing Medicaid costs as the baby boomers age. All the while, waiting lists for accessible or low-cost housing and services have grown longer.

Community-based housing and care need to be a higher national and local priority to help disabled citizens and their families. It is not only the right thing to do; it will lay the groundwork for those who will need services later on.

Part of that groundwork should be more and better trained workers in this field.

While no one can care for a child as a parent can, providing care for other people's needs can be elevated to a respected profession. It is an area of employment that should be known for innovation, empowerment, and reward, rather than bureaucracy and high turnover.

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