In New Testament times, the Jews had learned to declare that everything they owned belonged to God.  In this way, they were not responsible for taking care of elderly or disabled family members.  That would be something like Bill Gates putting all his assets under a non-profit, religious organization, and then declaring poverty and putting his wife into a nursing home under medicare.   

Each of us has an obligation to take care of those who have been put under our care.  That, of course, does not mean that the normal family should not try to find every state and federal benefit for their child that they obtain.  I believe that each family with a disabled child should take advantage of federal, state and local benefits.  However, they should also be willing to help in ways that the state cannot provide.

Nevertheless, even with the best of provision, there isn’t complete assurance that a person will be monetarily secure.  In these uncertain financial times, I have seen the estates of two extremely wealthy mentally challenged persons dwindle to nothing.  I am thankful for the state’s ability to pick up provision for their physical needs.  During periods like this, it may be a pastor who is the one person who has no financial interest at stake.

If a ministry within the mentally challenged community buys into this assumption, it may become part of your “unwritten” job description to be an advocate for your members.  I personally like the term “watch dog” or “unofficial family member.”  That means learning the systems, laws and statutes that govern their care and provision.  Keeping up with all this can be overwhelming at times.  But as you work with others, you become part of a network of caregivers and professionals who feel an equal desire to care for the financial needs of people with disabilities.

There have been several steps that I have seen work for me and others.  I believe they will function in any state.  Here they are:

  • Become a part of a local advocacy council. 
  • Study the laws of your state that apply to people who are mentally challenged.
  • Attend conferences and state-wide event.  You will not only learn but obtain valuable networking contacts.
  • Get onto the e-mail lists of others.  One wonderful advocate scours the newspapers everyday and sends daily update of event around the world.
  • Become a regular visitor to the workshops where they attend.
  • Get to know the parents, caregivers and guardians of your members.
  • As much as possible, become a part of the family of each of your members.  This is a lot easier than it may sound.  The family will see the benefits of their child’s relationship with the Lord and they will want to get to know you.
  • If possible, invite your members and their families into your home.
  • Visit your family members at their homes.
  • If you make a pop-in, unannounced visit, be prepared to not be invited into the house.
  • If you aren’t invited into the house, stand at the door for a few minutes talking quietly to the family member who answers the door.  Do not become irritated or concerned that you aren’t invited into the house.  Ask to see your member.  If you are then invited into the home, politely refuse; but ask if the member can come to the door.  People may be reluctant for you to come into their less-than-perfect home.
  • Attend, if possible, the member’s annual support planning session.
  • When you need to call a member on the phone, engage the family member who answers the phone in casual conversation for a few minutes. 

Of course, this isn’t all but perhaps it’s enough to help glean other possibilities available for working with the state and the family to help safe-guard your member’s future.