More housing and more types of housing are needed for Forsyth County residents with developmental disabilities, according to an expert hired to look at the issue by county officials.
On Tuesday, Dr. Laura Brackin, of Brackin and Associates, presented information found in a study of the county’s population of individuals with developmental disabilities – such as autism, down syndrome and intellectual disabilities – their caretakers, which focused heavily on students in local schools in the transition age, ages 14-21, and aging caregivers who are 60 or older, and the housing needs for both groups.
“It’s really important to make sure that we understand what we’re talking about when we say developmental disability,” Brackin said, “and a developmental disability is one that is a physical or mental disability that occurs during the developmental years, prior to the person reaching the age of 22, and it limits their ability to take care of themselves in some way: learning, walking, taking care of themselves…”
Brackin said the study, which received more than 500 responses, found that there were 881 students in the Forsyth County school system with developmental disabilities and 308, about 35%, of those students were in the transition age.
Countywide, 557 county residents under 5 have developmental disabilities, 1,673 ages 5-14, 1,169 ages 15-64 and 232 65 or older.
Along with those with developmental disabilities, parents, advocacy groups, housing officials, state agency officials and officials with provider organizations, such as Creative Enterprises, a program for adults who have aged out of the local school system, were also interviewed.
The study found that in Forsyth County, 96% of the population lived with their families or legal guardians, significantly higher than the nationwide average of 75%, and 21% of caregivers were 60 or older, with another 62% between the ages of 45 and 59.
Lisa Bennett, director of Creative Enterprise’s Forsyth campus, said she felt the number of aging caregivers was higher than reported.
“I tell you, I think more of the parents are aging, like over the [60 age limit] because they’re the ones that are not really computer savvy and didn’t do the survey, but I guarantee there’s more than that,” Bennett said.
Aging parents of children with disabilities were a focus due to concerns both from families and county leaders of what happens to their children when they pass away or are no longer able to care for them.
‘We are trying to figure out what is going to become of our children when we’re no longer here on this earth or no longer able to take care of them’Beth Burns
Also speaking at the meeting were Beth Burns and Steve and Tammy Miller, all parents of adopted children with special needs who are working to bring a development for those with disabilities and others known as Keystone Village to life.
“Tammy and I are both parents of special needs children that we’ve adopted and we are at a point in our lives where we are trying to figure out what is going to become of our children when we’re no longer here on this earth or no longer able to take care of them,” Burns said.
They said housing for those with developmental disabilities is an issue across the state and they wanted to be proactive for the needs of local residents.
At Keystone Village, there would be varying levels of care for those who are fairly independent, those who need “quite a bit of oversight” and those needing full-time care.
“All that would be part of our community,” Tammy Miller said. “We would be trying to reach as many different levels of special needs adults as possible, and … our vision is to be able to have at least 100 residents on our campus.”
While Keystone Village is one proposal, Brackin said the study showed that there needed to be a variety of housing for the county’s special needs community.
She said the study broke down housing into two categories: service attached to housing, such as group homes, host homes, institutions and some permanent options, which is limited to those who are eligible; and affordable housing in the community that would be open to anyone in the county and is typically supported through Home and Community Based Services (HCBS).
Brackin said both types were “extremely limited” in Forsyth County and that increases in affordable housing options and rental assistance vouchers are needed and that leaders “really can’t meet peoples’ needs without addressing both of those at the same time.”
“Just because you have services, it doesn’t help a person if there’s not affordable, accessible housing,” she said, “and likewise, just because you create accessible and affordable housing, if the person doesn’t have the support needs or services to meet their disability-related needs, it doesn’t do them any good.”
Brackin said she was still awaiting some numbers from the Department of Community Health and would give recommendations to county leaders once the full information was available but said “we know for a fact that more units are needed.”
Of the 50 affordable units the study found in the county, Brackin said only four were accessible and even those that are available have a long waitlist. Brackin said one family waited five years to get into a facility.
“So, if someone wanted today to access those,” she said, “it’s not an option for them.”