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Getting a Break

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Everyone needs a break from the stressors of daily life. Sometimes, however, that time off requires help from someone else. For parents of children with developmental disabilities, the idea of taking a pause can be particularly daunting. But it can be done, with the help of publicly funded family support programs.

Camillus resident Leanne Morphet’s son, Zachary, 11, was diagnosed at age 2 with autism, by which he is profoundly affected. In addition to being nonverbal, he wrestles with other medical conditions, such as ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Leanne and her husband also have a 13-year-old daughter in middle school.

The family began using respite care a few years ago through Casey’s Place, a site-based provider operated by Elmcrest Children’s Center. Zachary goes weekly on Tuesdays after school as well as during school breaks. He doesn’t like crowds, so taking him to the mall or another popular site for kids would be too stressful.

“If we didn’t have Casey’s Place, he would be like anybody would be, he gets cabin fever. He goes a little crazy without being able to have that place to go,” Morphet says.

It’s also a time for her to recharge. “When I have to go back in and take care of him, I have my wits about me. I’m not feeling tired. I just had that mental break.”

The amount of care for people with severe developmental disabilities is huge. Zachary, for instance, needs 24/7 supervision. “He has to be within our line of sight all the time,” Morphet says. “That’s a pretty intense, energy-expending level of care you have to give, so to have (respite) is really great. I want to be the best I can be for him. It helps me to do that.”

Zachary recently stayed at Casey’s Place for the first time overnight. Morphet and her husband took the opportunity to spend time with their daughter, taking her to the mall and out for a meal. “All eyes were on her for a change,” she says. “We talked to her about her life and gave her the attention she certainly deserves.”

Numerous nonprofit agencies throughout Onondaga County, in coordination with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), offer respite care in a variety of forms. These range from in-home and away-from-home care, to overnights, weekend getaways and reimbursements for privately hired caregivers.

To obtain such services, however, there is a process. Depending on variables such as needs and availability, it can be a long, tedious and frustrating journey. In the end, though, it is worth the time, effort and perseverance, as Morphet can attest.

“Although (Zachary) was eligible for respite when he was younger, we didn’t access actual respite until a few years ago,” she says. “This was due to getting on approved lists, then finding providers, and administrative issues.”

Doreen Wall, of Brewerton, had a similar delay due to the approval process and wait lists. Her son, Nicholas, now 14, was 11 years old when he began receiving respite care through Exceptional Family Resources (EFR) in Syracuse. Nicholas was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome as an infant. He is cognitively impaired and has sensory issues. Doreen and her husband fostered him when he was 14 months old, and adopted him at age 4.

“It’s worth the wait and perseverance,” says Wall, who commends the EFR staff for its support and response to requests and concerns. Nicholas now receives respite care on Thursdays and every other Saturday. The care workers pick him up from home and have fun activities planned and geared toward his own preferences.

For instance, Nicholas loves school buses, his mother says, so one of the care workers would find ways to interest him through that. They’d drive by the school bus garage or visit places that housed buses or trucks. She once brought him to see a helicopter. For Nicholas, the routine is now expected and anticipated. “He knows when they’re coming and he really looks forward to it.”

And respite for the rest of the Wall family? They used to clean the house of paper piles and magazine stacks that Nicholas collected and clung to from the grocery store. “When he’d go to respite, we’d say, ‘Quick, let’s throw everything out!’” Wall says with a little laugh, noting he never missed the mess upon his return. These days, they take advantage of respite to spend time with their other adopted son, Alex, 13, Nicholas’ biological brother. “Now it’s Alex’s time.”

Getting respite care

The first step is to obtain eligibility for the person with the developmental disability. This is the gateway to accessing OPWDD services in New York state. Qualifying developmental disabilities include intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury prior to age 21 and other neurological impairments.

To gain information on the eligibility process, families are advised to contact the Front Door program through OPWDD (see sidebar for contact information). Front Door gives an initial introduction to the process. An informational session gives families the opportunity to learn about the supports and services available and how to access them.

Once the person has OPWDD eligibility, he will be referred to an agency that provides Medicaid service coordination to start the application process for the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver, commonly referred to as just the “Medicaid waiver.”

The Medicaid waiver is not income-qualified, rather, it’s based on disability and is required across the board by agencies that provide services for people with developmental disabilities that require OPWDD eligibility. Not all programs require this waiver, but most do.

Medicaid service coordinators (MSC) are the hand-holders, so to speak. They support families by providing information, answering questions, evaluating needs, finding suitable programs, providing oversight and advocacy. They are also the people who place applicant names on waiting lists for respite care.

“Agencies can only take on certain case loads so it’s up to (MSCs) to put you on these lists,” Leanne Morphet says. “MSCs will know what agencies currently have available. . . and you can tell your MSC to put your name on multiple lists and take what’s first available.”

For instance, Doreen Wall uses Advocates, Inc., for Medicaid Service Coordination, but all her son’s services come through EFR. “(Our) MSC said, ‘We can arrange respite hours for you as soon as we have an opening, so whatever agency has a first opening, we will take,’ she said. “EFR had respite hours available. So that’s how we (arrived) there.”


Tami Scott is a freelance writer in Central New York.


Highlights of Local Respite Programs

Currently, there are more than a dozen nonprofit agencies in and around Onondaga County that offer respite programs, and the types can differ significantly.

Casey’s Place provides overnight, school break, after-school, summer and weekend daytime respite programs throughout the year. Clients are children with developmental disabilities or children with complex medical conditions who qualify for nursing-level care. Care-at-Home is a case management program for medically fragile children. Casey’s Place is one of the only medical respites in New York. Most respite centers do not serve medically complex children.

EFR offers the Take-a-Break Family Respite. The program provides in-home care for the individual with a disability as well as any siblings. This is unique in that most services can only provide care for the person with a disability. This service allows the parents to have a break from all their kids.

AccessCNY offers outreach services that cover a wide range of programs including Service Access Assistance, Family Supports, Respitality, summer camp and reimbursements. AccessCNY is also in the process of bringing Spaulding Support Services, which has two standalone respite homes, into its agency.

David’s Refuge, located in Manlius, offers a bed-and-breakfast retreat for parents/guardians who care for children of any age with special needs.

Arise, Inc. provides after-school respite in Onondaga and Madison counties, as well as in-home respite for Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties.


To learn more about what each agency offers, how services are funded, as well as eligibility/requirements, contact the agency directly.


Respite Agencies and Other Resources

OPWDD Front Door. (315) 793-9600, Ext. 603. opwdd.ny.gov/. To download a Services Resource Booklet, go to Services & Supports, Front Door, Resources for Individuals and Families, then click on Access to Services Resource Booklet.

AccessCNY. (in process of merging with Spaulding Support Services, which has two stand-alone respite homes). 1603 Court St., Syracuse. info@accesscny.org. (315) 455-7591. accesscny.org.

Advocates, Inc. 636 Old Liverpool Road, Liverpool. carol@advocatesincorporated.org. (315) 469-9931. advocatesincorporated.org.

Arc of Onondaga. 600 S. Wilbur Ave., Syracuse. webinfo@arcon.org. (315) 476-7441. arcon.org.

Arise Child and Family Service, Inc. 635 James St., Syracuse. singerson@ariseinc.org. (315) 472-3171. ariseinc.org.

Catholic Charities Neighborhood Centers. 1654 W. Onondaga St., Syracuse. (315) 472-6343. ccoc.us.

Casey’s Place (Elmcrest). 228 Lafayette Road, Syracuse. (315) 492-9990, Ext. 202. elmcrest.org.

Cayuga Centers. 101 Hamilton Ave, Auburn. (315) 253-5383.cayugacenters.org.

David’s Refuge. 8195 Cazenovia Road, Manlius. davidsrefuge@gmail.com. (315) 682-4204. davidsrefuge.org.

Exceptional Family Resources (EFR). 1820 Lemoyne Ave., Syracuse. (315) 478-1462. contactefr.org. For the 2017-2018 Resource Manual for Onondaga County and Surrounding Areas, go to contactefr.org and scroll to the bottom of the page to download. Hard copies are available at EFR.

H.O.M.E., Inc. (Humanitarian Organization for Multicultural Experience). 831 James St., Syracuse. (315) 472-5110. homeincny.org.

The Kelberman Center. 50 Presidential Plaza, Suite 102, Syracuse. (315) 797-6241. kelbermancenter.org.

PEACE, Inc. Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center. 202 S. Beech St., Syracuse. EastsideFRC@peace-caa.org. (315) 470-3342. peace-caa.org.

Spaulding Support Services (in process of merging with AccessCNY). 6520 Basile Rowe, East Syracuse. (315) 478-6210. Crystal House, 104 E. Beard Ave., Syracuse. (315) 424-3851. Guest House, 241 Beattie St., Syracuse. (315) 478-5254.

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