A New Approach to Serving Special Needs Families: Putting Caregivers First
Two of our clients are an incredible couple who adopted two children with complex care needs 20 years ago. They had a vision of what retirement could be but didn’t how to get there on their own. In a meeting to better understand their hopes and dreams, the husband said one of the most loving, awe-inspiring statements I have ever heard: “I want my wife back.”
"Wow,” I thought. “They have spent so much time focusing on the kids, they haven’t had the opportunity to focus on each other properly.” So simple, and yet, so profound.
As a family member of someone living with complex care needs, I understand the emotions that come with navigating the unknown road. Early in my career as a financial advisor, my wife and I were approached to be the future caregivers to my brother-in-law, who has a learning disability. We agreed, but quickly learned we were not well-prepared for the challenges that would come. This realization inspired me to pursue my passion for helping families like mine to better understand their options, as I deeply understand the busyness, concerns, and joys that are inherent to being a family member of someone with complex care needs.
Early in the discovery process, I started asking caregiving family members a simple question: “When was the last time you went on a vacation without your loved one?" Many looked at me with confusion. It quickly became clear that caregiving family members are required to be so focused on their loved ones that they haven’t had an opportunity to plan or care for themselves.
This dedication, while admirable, can also lead to tremendous stress, anxiety, and burnout. It also lays bare the holes in the traditional community service model for families.
Let’s look at a few tools and services available within this model:
- Regional Centers – In California, Regional Centers connect people to service providers and provide funding for them. Although a caregiving family member may act as a representative for an individual, the family member is not the client. The person with complex care needs is.
- Special needs trust – This is a critical tool to ensure individuals remain eligible for public and private benefits. But it is an empty shell for caregiving family members, as it is typically only funded after the death of the caregiving family member. It rarely provides any benefits to the family as a whole while the caregivers are still living.
- Life insurance – Having the proper life insurance in place is crucial. Families can be devastated without it. Again, though, it generally only benefits the family after the death of the insured caregiving family member.
Each of these tools and services are extremely important in many ways, and there are more examples than what is listed here. But they also reveal a clear need to better support caregiving family members.
The truth is that in general, the special needs services industry wholly ignores the personal needs of caregiving family members. Does this make the services faulty or bad? Of course not. They are essential services that were created to meet a need. However, I want to propose another need that deserves to be met: Helping family members achieve their own highest quality of life and happiness as they navigate life with someone who has complex care needs.
At Van Hulzen Financial Advisors, we heard this need and answered the call. We flipped the traditional special needs service model on its head by focusing on the caregiving family members first. We give them a safe space to ask and answer questions without shame or guilt so that they too can achieve their highest quality of life and happiness.
The success of this model lies in helping caregiving family members to achieve their goals while simultaneously solving for their loved one's needs. By putting them first, we ensure that their lives and well-being are active components of the plan.
For those who are ready, like the amazing couple at the beginning of this piece, Van Hulzen Financial Advisors is ready and willing to assist. By working together, we are confident that you will be able to recapture your own hopes and dreams.
That’s real. That’s true. And that’s peace of mind.
Written by author: Rhett Beal | Senior Financial Advisor, CHSNC®
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