Viriginia Heading in Right Direction, but Faces a Long Road Ahead

Tue, February 21, 2012

I worked in residential/service coordination in Virginia, my home state, for about five years. So when I read that Virginia will close four state institutions for people with developmental disabilities and move thousands of people to their own homes, their family's houses or group homes as part of a settlement announced recently with the U.S. Justice Department, I thought this is great news about a move in direction that is long overdue.

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The agreement came after a scathing federal report of the training centers, which found the state harmed residents by keeping them in large institutions instead of providing smaller, community-based homes.

My job back then was challenging, and I'm sure DSPs face those same hurdles today. There were so many people in need of services, but funding was an issue and there weren't as many service providers as there are today. Southwest Virginia was particularly rural. It was hard to develop community-based services when the communities were so tiny and isolated. I remember that those who were fortunate enough to get a residential placement, unfortunately had to move far from their families. I recall working with a family in central Virginia, and I helped secure a placement for their adult child three hours away in Virginia Beach. That was the most appropriate setting.

There weren't many group homes around there. Most of the most successful placements were in adult foster care. Most of those providers were former employees of state institutions or empty-nesters who wanted to provide someone with a caring, nurturing home life.

I still have concerns about private providers being able to serve the growing needs people with developmental disabilities in the community, especially in the very rural areas. populous areas like Northern Virginia, the outskirts of Washington, D.C., especially, and southwest Virginia are like night and day. I have at least one close relative who works with some of my former clients in Virginia. I know that those individuals are receiving wonderful services. I remember and still worry about some individuals who, because of challenging needs, location, or other factors will always always struggle to get services.