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Finding a Home With Love-Adult Foster Care The Right Fit For Daughter With Special Needs

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Chronicle-Herald, December 17, 2004.

Nine years ago, Lorraine Bartlett was a widowed mother struggling to care for her severely mentally and physically disabled daughter of 22.

She was near the end of her rope, unable to provide the needed care for Tracy, who has a rare disease that left her blind and mentally challenged, with a cleft palate and webbed fingers.

"I just couldn't do it," she said.

Tracy spent time in a group home, then a special options home, but neither offered the right fit.

"What I was looking for was somebody who would love her the way I love her, and that's what I have," she said.

Tracy went to live with Patricia and Lloyd Mansfield under the Alternative Family Support program, a foster care program for disabled adults.

Mrs. Mansfield said Tracy has blossomed in their Dartmouth home.

"It's the greatest joy in the world," she said.

Community Services Minister David Morse said Thursday the province wants to expand that program beyond the 120 homes in metro and the Annapolis Valley, starting in late 2005.

"This can offer a long-term family situation," Mr. Morse said at a news conference in Halifax.

But New Democrat MLA Maureen MacDonald, a social worker, said the province's emphasis on foster homes for adults is a fundamental shift in thinking.

"For years we've talked about treating those people respectfully as adults who happen to have a disability," she said. "How many adults do you know who want to go live in a foster home in foster care?"

Ms. MacDonald said she understands some want this as an option but expressed concern about who decides whether a disabled person goes into foster care or lives independently.

Mr. Morse also announced the province plans to have more supported apartments across Nova Scotia for those who require minimal support and supervision. People in these types of homes require various levels of help, ranging between two to three hours a day and two to three hours a week.

"This is one of the least intrusive options of support," the minister said. "Maximum independence is encouraged through this program. They work and live on their own."

He said right now some people are getting 24-hour care when it really isn't necessary.

"It's a shame to provide them with all these extra resources when they just need someone to look in on them," Mr. Morse said.

As well, a new program called Direct Family Support, starting early next year, will help individuals to remain at home and under the support of Community Services, rather than falling under the Health Department's auspices once they turn 19.

These three programs come under Community Supports for Adults, which provides residential help to about 3,100 Nova Scotians. About $1 million that has already been budgeted will be spent, mostly for the Direct Family Program.

Lorna MacPherson, acting manager of the program, couldn't say how many people are in the wrong type of residential setting. But she said by adding and expanding programs, the province hopes to free up some bottlenecks in the system, getting more people the care they need.

But Ms. MacDonald said she didn't hear anything about the people who are waiting to get into the system.

"It's frankly almost embarrassing what the minister announced here today and how little concrete information they could provide us," the Halifax Needha MLA said.

"The real crisis in Community Supports for Adults is the fact that there are people who aren't already in the program at any level and can't get in."

Liberal MLA, Manning MacDonald, said the Tories seem to have a strategy of making announcements with money that isn't new.

"The money was in the budget already," the Cape Breton South MLA said.

While he said any help for people with disabilities is a good thing, Mr. MacDonald questioned the province's motivation.

"When David Morse talks about program enhancements, you know an election is on the way."

Courtesy of The Halifax Herald Limited.