At Racker, our Family Support Services (FSS) programs have continued to support families in New York as they navigate services and funding options through the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, also known as OPWDD. FSS programs vary across the state depending on each community’s needs and available services. Depending on the program type, individuals with OPWDD eligibility who live at home with their family or caregiver are typically eligible for FSS. Racker offers several such programs, including family reimbursement, lending libraries, sensory spaces, an advocacy program, educational resources, networking opportunities for parents and self-advocates, and behavioral support.
With Racker, eligible families can access FSS funding to help pay for respite, camps, goods and services, and more. In 2022, the FSS Reimbursement programs across New York state learned to navigate the new requirements outlined by OPWDD in their latest FSS administrative directive memorandum, or ADM. The guidelines in the ADM changed the overall fabric of FSS and created unexpected challenges for families to secure funding support. Racker’s top priority during this time was to ensure a smooth transition for families, with little to no disruption in their services wherever possible. The FSS staff at Racker reviewed the ADM, restructured their team, set up training, and formed a review committee to better support the community.
As part of the new ADM, each application must go through a new approval process, which includes review and approval from an internal committee comprised of Racker staff and volunteers and a second approval from OPWDD. Racker assembled and trained an internal committee before the requirement was officially in effect. This allowed them to reduce errors and expedite an already prolonged process. In addition, Racker works closely with OPWDD to roll out updates and clarifications to the many families they support, their committee members, and provider partners.
Families interested in financial support from the FSS program work with their team to submit an application, linking the need to their loved one’s diagnosis or disability. Once Racker receives an application and justification, the team carries that application through the multi-step review process. With the support of Racker’s FSS coordinator, Marlene Tagliavento, families and providers do not have to navigate the new process alone. She keeps families and care managers informed and provides support and updates along the way.
In line with the new ADM, individuals who qualify for FSS can access up to $3,000 in financial support each year, as funds are available, across FSS reimbursement programs in their region. This new review process gives families access to services that meet their needs. One example is securing ongoing respite funding so parents or caregivers can have a much-needed break in caregiving, which allows them to return to their loved ones feeling refreshed and ready. In addition to respite, Racker and the Family Support program provides financial support to families to purchase items such as “Yogibos,” fidget tools, sensory lights, adaptive shoes, and services like equine therapy, dance classes, sports, camp, and more. Racker’s reimbursement program and the Autism Lending Library and Sensory Space serve families of Broome, Cortland, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga, and Tompkins Counties. These programs work hand-in-hand as a “try before you buy” option for families seeking tools, strategies, and support for their loved ones with sensory and adaptive equipment needs.
Racker is currently renovating their libraries in Ithaca, Cortland, and Owego to be more inclusive and engaging and provide support for all ages. The Ithaca Library is already open, with an expected grand re-opening for the Cortland space planned for March 29th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Owego’s grand re-opening is scheduled for April 26th. The Cortland Lending Library & Sensory Space (also called Parent Network) is open to families in Madison and Onondaga counties. All libraries are accepting applications for volunteers to assist with Library hours, inventory, events, and delivery! The Lending Libraries also offer educational and networking events for parents and caregivers, and self-advocates. This includes monthly programs, for which FSS-enrolled individuals get VIP access! Topics include a series for parents of younger children, DIY fidget-making classes, Other Voices of the 607 Self-Advocacy group, sensory-friendly movie nights, and even an upcoming magic show featuring the Neurodivergent Magician!
Racker has five talented behavior specialists who work with families on socially significant behaviors to improve the daily lives of their loved ones and the whole family. Team members get to know the individual and their family, conduct assessments, complete data, and learn about the person’s strengths and interests. Behavior specialists partner with families to determine and eliminate unsafe behavior and focus on skills and goal development so that families can achieve their dreams. Evidence-based strategies are taught to the person and their caregivers. Individuals with OPWDD eligibility that live in Broome, Cortland, Tioga, or Tompkins counties with their family or caregiver, and have a behavior score of 50, may be eligible for the program.
The top priority at Racker is to help families access needed support and services. Family support programs continue to be a vital resource when other programs and services are unavailable. The FSS team welcomes families to inquire about FSS reimbursement programs by emailing FamilyFunds@Racker.org. Racker also invites all to check out the new libraries or apply to be a volunteer by contacting LendingLibrary@Racker.org. You may also visit their website at www.Racker.org.
Those interested in Racker’s Supporting Success Behavior Support program can contact their care manager for a referral or contact Success@Racker.org for more information.