March was declared by the Governor of Nebraska to be “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” On this occasion, Wade Johnson (board and founding member of Our Place After School Care) would like to share his story on caring for teens with developmental disabilities.
My wife, Adeline Johnson, and I started Our Place After School Care in Hastings in 2018. We provide after-school care and programming for when school is not in session on weekdays so parents can complete their workday. We are the only location providing this service west of Lincoln and Omaha. When we started, there was no licensing for the care of individuals between the ages of 13-21. We are a 501 (c)3 nonprofit, yet we cannot be free from sales tax because we do not have a license as a care facility for teens, ages 13-20, with disabilities. This license does not exist. The law now says we can elect to license under the childcare license. We have contacted our state Senators and DHHS to find out how we could accomplish this goal because several parts do not apply to us. For example, we do not need twelve-inch high toilets. DHHS personnel have told us they are still determining how this would apply to us. I have been to the state capital to speak on legislation that would make a clear path to licensure. The legislation didn’t make it out of committee. Then, we heard these phrases: “be patient”, “you are pioneers”, “I don’t know”, and “no”. It is the job of DHHS to know the answers, yet Director Green is unable to answer our questions about how the childcare license application would work for us.
Our daughter, Zoe, is 16 and enrolled at Our Place After School Care. She qualifies for developmental disabilities funding. Over the past year as parents and Zoe’s caseworker have been looking for an independent provider or agency that is reliable. We have yet to find one. The Our Place program consistently cares for her and others daily after school, on holidays, and over summer break. There is a low client-to-worker ratio. The youth love interacting with their friends in a place made for them. She loves it; unfortunately, her developmental disability funds are ineligible for the Our Place program. Our Place After School Care can not accept Zoe’s DD funds because I am a board member, and my wife is the executive director. DHHS says that parents can not receive state funding for the care of their children. However, according to the Our Place After School Care corporation bylaws, board members can not be paid. We are at work, the reason we started the program, and not the ones caring for our child when she is in the program. The board makes the decisions about expenditures. We can not make decisions independently of the board.
DHHS says that if we step away from our positions, the program would be eligible for Zoe’s funds. When I asked the DHHS person if stepping away would be the best for the program, her answer was no. I agree with her. If we step away, the program will fall apart because no one will want to continue this fight. We have fought for four years just to get noticed by DHHS. How long will the legislature and DHHS take to resolve the issue with a clear path and application? When will these governing bodies recognize that families who create a care program that serves the community and their own child are a part of the solution to care in small communities? Yet, another four years?
We have created a trail-blazing program that meets the needs of developmentally disabled teens in our community. Please help us cut through the state’s red tape to ensure our program’s success and hopefully open up the potential for other communities to meet this need.