A special plan

Creating a solid financial future with a trusted team

By Heidi Tattrie Rushton

When you have children, long-term financial planning needs to be a priority. But when you have children with special needs, who may require lifelong support, it’s even more important. Making a solid financial plan today can make all the difference in your child’s quality of life, now and in the future.

Brian Himmelman, president of Himmelman & Associates Financial Advisors in Halifax, says the biggest mistake many families make with their finances is “simply ignoring, delaying,
or not planning for the future.”

He says the first step towards creating a financial plan for children with special needs is research. When you understand what challenges the child may face in the future, it’s easier to plan to address these issues and allocate resources accordingly.

The next step is to engage with professionals in the field and with supporting organizations, such as the IWK, government, community groups, non-profits, or specialized schools, to build a team of trusted resources. Connecting with other families who have “been there” (or are also in the process of planning) can also provide information and support. 

Finally, Himmelman recommends consulting with a certified financial planner and looking into options such as the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). A professional will be able to guide a family through the available saving programs and help them to identify the best fit for their personal circumstances. Understanding and maximizing the benefits of the available programs can ease the strain.

“Families who design a plan for their child with a disability or special needs and successfully see that plan through are happier, more empowered, and are far less stressed than families who don’t,” says Himmelman.

Kirsten Lebelle works at Easter Seals Nova Scotia as a multi-program coordinator. She agrees that helping children develop some form of independence early on, which could lead to a source of income, is an important part of financial planning.

“I believe that a person with disabilities who is taught from a young age that they can have adaptive independence, where they are able to earn an income on their own, is so important because they tend to flourish when they’re older and in turn, have more opportunities,” says Lebelle. “There are so many options out there for any child or adult to be able to have their own income that many parents do not know about … It could be at a social enterprise that is able to handle any form of disability, like New Leaf Enterprises, or at a job in a local store in their neighbourhood.”

Lebelle has a younger sibling who has autism and will need extra support throughout his life. When he was very young, her parents began teaching him life skills, thinking about what his life would look like as an adult. 

While he still needs full assistance, through family guidance and involvement in local programs, he is learning to cook simple meals, ride a bus, and use a bank account.

“My brother is just entering the Achieve Program at NSCC and once he is finished, he will be working in a small craft business that he and his friends created during the pandemic. It was adapted by us to be able to handle the disabilities that he and his friends have,” she says. “(The NSCC program) allows them to learn on their own, and with their peers who are on the same playing field, and to grow and hone in on their interests.”

For families who have a child with physical disabilities, Lebelle says there are organizations that will help cover the cost of wheelchairs, walkers, or other adaptive equipment, either through loans or donations. Many of these support programs have long wait times, so advance planning is key to getting the financial support that is needed.

For Lebelle’s brother, the plan is for him to live at home with their parents until they can no longer care for him, then he will move in with Lebelle’s family where he’ll have his own bachelor apartment. This living arrangement will provide independence for him, with family support nearby when needed.

“We now have my brother’s future planned out and he has so much more freedom and independence than we could have ever hoped for,” she says. “If we had started planning this later in life, I don’t know that he would have everything in place to be independent and able to do the things he is doing now.”

RESOURCES 

Financial Programs

Registered Disability Savings Plan: novascotia.ca/coms/disabilities/documents/RDSP.html

Disability Tax Credit: canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/segments/tax-credits-deductions-persons-disabilities/disability-tax-credit.html

Disability Support Program (for respite care): novascotia.ca/coms/disabilities/index.html

Easter Seals Assistive Devices Program: easterseals.ns.ca/assistive-devices

Support Programs

Nova Scotia Early Childhood Development Intervention Services: nsecdis.ca

Easter Seals Nova Scotia: easterseals.ns.ca

Inclusion Nova Scotia: inclusionns.ca

Education Support

Halifax Developmental Centre for Early Learning: halifaxacl.com/halifax-developmental-centre-for-early-learning

NSCC Achieve Program: nscc.ca/learning_programs/programs/plandescr.aspx?prg=ACHV&pln=ACHIEVECOC

Bridgeway Academy: bridgeway-academy.com

Churchill Academy: churchillacademy.ca/\

Supported Employment Programs

Canadian Association for Supported Employment: supportedemployment.ca

New Leaf Enterprises: easterseals.ns.ca/new-leaf-enterprises

Dartmouth Adult Services Centre: dasc-ns.ca

L’Arche: larche.ca/en/communities/atlantic-region

Building Futures: buildfutures.ca

Directions Council for Vocational Services: directionscouncil.org

General Resources

IWK: iwk.nshealth.ca/resources

Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Directorate: novascotia.ca/accessibility/Social Enterprise Network Nova Scotia

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