The birth of a child is a joyous event, regardless of the challenges. When a child is born with special needs—whether developmental or medical—parents can face unique challenges that can initially feel overwhelming.
When first learning their child has special needs, parents face a steep learning curve, says Kathy Netten, a social worker with the complex care program at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto. Parents need to learn medical terms, how to navigate the healthcare system and how to advocate effectively. Because many conditions are discovered in infancy, they are often learning how to be parents for the first time. And, they may also be grieving.
Sick Kids has over 50 social workers like Ms. Netten who provide counselling, therapy and support services for families with special needs children. “We are available to help parents find resources and work effectively with care teams, to problem solve when there are challenges, and for the very difficult decision-making,” she says.
From her experience, Ms. Netten says parents will often push themselves to physical and mental exhaustion to benefit their child. “The key is to find a balance between hope and despair, even under the most difficult of circumstances. Hope will allow parents to take care of their own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs so they can care for the developmental and medical needs of their child.”
Parents must also be mindful that financial questions are not forgotten at this most critical time, only to become an additional burden later on. While it can be difficult to think about long-term financial concerns, the right support can help. A qualified and trusted financial planning professional, such as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional can guide parents through the turmoil.
For parents of special needs children, this can be even more important. A typical family will see income increase over time. However, for families with special needs children—especially those that have the most complex needs—literature shows that income actually decreases. Medication and equipment costs, time taken from work, and lack of knowledge of available assistance programs are all contributors.
A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional can help parents at every stage of the journey by ensuring they are not risking the family’s long-term financial health while dealing with a whirlwind of activities and emotions, notes Ms. Netten. They can remind you, for example, about available government programs (such as Registered Education Savings Plans, Disability Tax Credit, and Disability Support Programs) and discuss tax minimization strategies.
Finally, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional can help you plan for the time when you are no longer able or around to take care of your special needs child. A solid financial plan, combined with legal concerns such as Powers of Attorney for chosen care-givers or establishing a trust that will protect the assets of the disabled person and their right to collect government benefits and entitlements, are important considerations to talk over with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional.
Each special needs child is unique. Don’t go it alone. With the help of professionals, family members and other parents that have experienced a similar situation, can help to ease the burden and shine a light on just how much a very special child can accomplish.