Phila. Inquirer Article on New Jersey's "Real Life Choices" Program
This kind of program is in many ways the wave of the future in disability policy, though it raises complex issues.
New Jersey rolled out a new approach in September 2003 called Real Life Choices, which allows families to create their own cluster of services to keep adult children with family or in another living arrangement.
Real Life Choices is one of the latest efforts to provide services that allow clients to maintain their independence and remain integrated in the community. The state hopes to expand Real Life Choices and similar self-directed programs for the developmentally disabled to give families more services.
Through Real Life Choices, families who qualify for state disability services are given a budget to create their services, determined by the adults' level of care. The money, ranging from $14,000 to $63,000 a year, can be used for services such as aides to help bathe the client, transportation to jobs and activities, or home renovations such as a wheelchair ramp.
The take-it-or-leave-it system of group homes and institutions costs $90,000 to $146,000 a year a person and left many families dissatisfied.
"While many people are living in group homes, they are saying, 'I want to live a more independent lifestyle and I want to be able to tailor to what I need,' " said Carol Grant, acting director the Division of Developmental Disabilities. "The system is now able to say 'yes' where before we had to say 'no.' We want people to be independent and empowered."
New Jersey is just one of many states moving away from a cookie-cutter approach of programs and housing toward a system where clients choose their own services.