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Many families across Massachusetts care for loved ones with intellectual disabilities. Through the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Commonwealth offers a number of programs that provide resources, respite, and support to help these families.

According to DDS, the agency currently assists 23,000 adults and more than 8,600 children with intellectual disabilities and their families through its various support services.

Family Support Services and Programs

There is a wide spectrum of services available to individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, outlined in the Department of Developmental Services Annual Family Support Plan. Some support services are designed specifically for children, while others focus on helping adults or the families of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

DDS outlines a range of programs for families who have a variety of needs in caring for loved ones, including assistance for caregivers through information, advocacy, help with the procurement and coordination of in-home support, and networking opportunities. Family Support includes respite care, individual skill building, social activities, support groups, service navigation, family networking, information and referral, and other services that help relieve the stress of caregiving for the family and assist the individual with disabilities to live successfully with their family.

  • Family Support Centers — Across the Commonwealth, there are more than 40 family support centers that act as hubs for general services, information, training, mentoring, and networking for families. These programs also provide assistance navigating the different service systems, as well as the financial challenges that are associated with caring for an individual who has a disability. Cultural/Linguistic-Specific Family Support Centers offer such services to foreign language families at 10 locations in Massachusetts. These centers serve as a bridge to other community resources.
  • Intensive Flexible Family Support Programs — The intensive flexible family support programs offer support to families of children who may require more comprehensive and coordinated assistance.  A support plan is developed to address specific need areas and help families access and coordinate in-home services with other clinical, health, and community supports. These professionals help families pinpoint programs and resources ideal for their loved one’s specific needs so they can find the right services for both the long and short term.
  • Medically Complex Programs — The medically complex programs  provide both instrumental and emotional support to families caring for a child/young adult with complex medical conditions who are living at home. Staff provide guidance to families to help them access and navigate the different medical resources and services they need to care for their loved one at home. Case managers work with families to help them keep their family members at home and prevent out-of-home placements.
  • Planned Facility-Based Respite Programs for Children with Disabilities — Respite programs give families the ability to take a break from the day-to-day demands of caring for a loved one. Experienced caregivers provide overnight, weekend, or vacation care. A variety of recreational, cultural, and educational activities, and other social outings are also available during their stay.
  • Family Leadership Programs —Workshops that are organizes into three two-day sessions are the hallmark of the family leadership programs. These sessions focus on advocacy and best practices for caregiving and community involvement. Participants prepare themselves to take the lead in engaging with support organizations and local communities in private and public capacities.
  • Autism Support Centers — Eight autism support centers are located across Massachusetts to provide services specifically for individuals with autism spectrum disabilities and their families. These centers act as networking hubs for families seeking advice on how to care for individuals with autism or searching for information on the wide-ranging autism spectrum. The centers also organize social family outings.
  • DESE/DDS Community Residential Education Program — This program, a collaboration between DDS and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), is designed to provide in-home and community-based therapeutic supports to children and young adults ages 6 to 22, who demonstrate a need for services to prevent a more restrictive out-of-home residential placement. The intent of the program is to increase the capacity of a family to support their child in the home and community, as well as to provide an individualized plan that promotes skill building, independence, and social integration. All children in the program receive between three to six hours a week of behavioral and skills-based training. This may focus on increasing the individual’s ability to carry out activities of daily living, enhancing the child’s ability to communicate, or increasing positive behaviors through skills development.

Applying for Family Support Services

While anyone can contact a Family Support Center or Autism Support Center for information and referral services, determining an individual’s eligibility for DDS programs is the first step in the support services process. Families can start by downloading the appropriate application for DDS eligibility. Follow these steps to submit the necessary form:

  1. Find the Right Application — There are two different forms, depending on the age of the applicant: younger than 5 years old or 5–22 years old and 22 and older.
  2. Fax or Mail Application — Send the form to the appropriate regional DDS office. Family members may need to provide Social Security numbers, insurance data, information regarding the current functional abilities of an applicant, and documentation like guardianship decrees. DDS may also request access to school, medical, and psychological records.

Once the form is received, a DDS official will contact the applicant’s family to set up a meeting. The regional eligibility team will then review the application and send a written eligibility decision.

DDS Contact Information

  • The area office locator lists nearby DDS branches that will provide case management services and assistance in planning for services once eligibility has been approved. Families can also download directions and find contact information to DDS regional, area offices, and facilities.
  • The comprehensive Statewide Family Support Directory lists locations of Family Support Centers, Autism Support Centers, and other support programs where families can access information, get help finding resources, and learn about training events.

Family support services and programs have been successful in helping many Massachusetts residents gain the necessary knowledge and assistance to care for their loved ones. Families interested in these services should download a DDS eligibility application today.

Want to learn more? Comment below or tweet us @MassGov.

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