Open Homes and Open Hearts Needed
This is from an op-ed in the Union Leader by Suzanne Gaetjens-Oleson, LCMHC, Chief Executive Officer of nonprofit Northern Human Services.
There may be a family in your social or professional circle that has a child with a developmental disability, like Down syndrome or autism. Let’s call them the Smiths. Over the years, the Smith’s child, Susan, grows into adulthood, but, because she does not have the cognitive or physical ability to live a totally independent life, she still significantly depends on her parents.
As Mr. and Mrs. Smith get older, this question may have crossed your mind. What’s going to happen to Susan once they pass away or can’t care for her any longer?
This is a very real concern and one, fortunately, we have a system in place to address.
Throughout the North Country and around the state, open-hearted people known as home care providers welcome adults with developmental disabilities into their homes and into their families. This requires kindness, but it also presents a career opportunity as home care providers are compensated for their work.
Thanks to home care providers supplying a home and support with daily activities, adults with developmental disabilities like Susan can live safely and independently when their loved ones are no longer able to care for them.
Metaphorically, you might think of home care as adult foster care, and it plays an important role in our state’s developmental service system.
Every area agency serving people with developmental disabilities and their families employs home care providers. We currently contract with 80. And like every developmental services agency around the state, we are actively seeking more.
It is a compensated job. Without getting into detail, the range of payment a home care provider receives might be in the area of $20,000 per year to host someone who is very independent, to $100,000 for a client who needs significant support. The compensation home care providers receive is tax-free.
A home care provider can host anywhere from one to three individuals in their home, depending on the number of bedrooms they have and our ability to arrange for the people living together to be compatible with one another.
The process to qualify as a home care provider is similar to qualifying as a foster care provider — an application with references, a background check, and an interview and inspection of the home. Home care providers receive training, most of which is online training that we provide.
The most important factor in a successful home care arrangement is the right match. We try to match people with similar interests. For example, if we have a client who enjoys going to church and participating in other church activities and that wasn’t an interest of the home care provider, that may not be a good match.
If the client is very active and wants to go out to evening concerts or to ball games, we try to find a home care provider who also enjoys being active. Conversely, some people are home bodies, and if so we try to factor that into the match.
If we find the right match between a home care provider and the individual who lives with them, that individual is probably going to have a home for life.
Why do people want to be home care providers?
First, it’s an immensely rewarding job you can do at home. For some people, that’s convenient if they are raising a young family. Or if they’ve raised their family, it might be appealing because they don’t have to go to an office or work for somebody else. The tax-free compensation is appealing to some folks.
But the majority are just caregivers at heart. It’s something that they want to do. We’ve discovered that our home care providers have room in their hearts as well as room in their homes. In the right match the individual becomes a loved companion — a member of the family.
Our home care providers range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Our clients who live in home care settings are 22 and up. The majority are in their 50s and older. Like Susan in the example above, they often don’t have family left and don’t have others to support them in their lives.
If you have room in your home and room in your heart and are interested in a job that’s tremendously rewarding, area agencies that serve people with developmental disabilities would love to hear from you.