Safety and Security
Staying secure—preparing for emergencies, personal safety, guardianship and alternatives, legal, financial, and insurance issues.
Safety is always a priority when it comes to our children and family. Helping your child learn valuable information and skills needed to be safe and feel secure can be very rewarding and part of lifelong lessons. You may have concerns or questions about your child’s personal safety and security at home and in the community. This might include preparing for emergencies, considering guardianship and alternatives, and addressing legal, financial, and insurance options that can help ensure safety.
What can I do to help my child stay safe at home and in the community (safety at home, baby proofing, safe touch)?
What are some things to consider to help keep my child safe?
Child-proofing your home may be a priority when you have a very young child but it’s important to continue to think about safety in the home and community as children grow. Below are some resources for you to consider:
Childproofing your home
Safety in the Home and Community
How can I teach my child about ‘Safe Touch’?
Parents often teach children about ways to keep themselves safe: Don’t run with scissors. Wear seatbelts. Look both ways before crossing the road. However, some conversations are more difficult than others such as teaching about safe touch and unsafe or inappropriate touch. It’s important to start this conversation with young children and continue to talk and refine the conversation as they mature and have new and different social situations. Help them know what to watch for and to whom they can turn t if something makes them uncomfortable.
What if I have concerns about child abuse and/or neglect?
Children with developmental delays and disabilites, including autism, are at higher risk for abuse and/or neglect. Caring for a child with a disability or other special needs can be overwhelming and stressful. If you become frustrated, step away from the situation so you can calm down and refocus. Talk to your child’s doctor about how to handle challenging behaviors or if you need help with any concerns that you find worrisome or stressful.
North Carolina law requires all adults to report suspected child maltreatment. You do not need proof that maltreatment has occurred; you only need reasonable cause to suspect maltreatment. You do not need anyone’s permission to file a report.
If you think your child or another child may be experiencing abuse or neglect in any setting (school, daycare, community, family) take steps to address them.
– Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns
– Take your child to a hospital or doctor’s office to be examined
– Call the police (dial 911 on your phone)
– Call Child Protective Services at your local department of Social Services https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/social-services/child-welfare-services/child-protective-services
How do I prepare our family for emergencies?
Emergencies and disasters can happen any time and any place, so planning can help ensure a situation doesn’t go from bad to worse quickly. It’s especially important to have plans for children and persons with disabilities to involve them in the plans as appropriate.
What are some common emergencies that I should talk to my child and family about?
Three common emergencies that families often think about include:
Fire in the home
Your child getting lost
What should I plan for in case of medical emergencies?
Having a plan for medical emergencies before they happen can help assure that your child gets the quickest and best possible treatment and care. This may be especially important for children with disabilities or special health care needs.
Find out from your child’s doctor if there are special health risks or symptoms that should be monitored related to your child. Ask your child’s doctor or nurse for help in filling out an emergency information form and share it with others involved in your child’s care (teacher, caregivers, babysitters, grandparents). You may want to post the emergency form on your refrigerator or other visible area if EMS is ever needed.
For more information regarding medical emergency planning:
What should I plan for in case of disasters?
Preparation is essential in order to survive a disaster and manage the recovery after the incident. Planning before a disaster occurs can help reduce the uncertainty and risks associated with the event. As part of disaster planning for the family and for children with special needs, consider supplies of water and non-perishable food for at least three days for each person AND pets, along with resources needed if there is no electricity (i.e., special medical equipment, phone, heat, refrigeration needs). Additionally, put together an emergency kit of items your family may need in or after an emergency. items to consider for the kit include small favorite toys to occupy child’s attention, face masks, hand sanitizer, necessary medications, and copies of any medical/contact info placed in a plastic bag or on a USB flash drive/or cloud storage.
There are many resources available about disaster planning for families of children with special needs:
What is guardianship for a minor child and when is it needed?
When a minor child’s parents are unable toprovide necessary care, a legal guardianship may be necessary. This can be for a variety of reasons such as parental illness, housing insecurity, incarceration, etc. A legal guardian is appointed by the court according to state laws. Often, parental rights are not taken away and parents remain involved; however, the guardian can make many decisions for the child during this time. A guardian may be initiated by the parents (often with the help of an attorney) or through the court under certain circumstances.
What is adult guardianship and alternatives to guardianship (Supported Decision Making)?
Adult guardianship (for people 18 years and older) is a legal process that exists to protect vulnerable people, including those who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, traumatic brain injury, youth in foster care, and vulnerable older adults. In North Carolina, a Clerk of Court gives decision making rights for a vulnerable individual to a guardian – often a family member, but sometimes a friend or a public guardian such as a county Department of Social Services. Guardianship takes away people’s right to make the most basic decisions for themselves, so less restrictive alternatives, such as Supported Decision Making, should first be explored.
Guardianship gives a designated guardian the legal right to make certain decisions on behalf of an adult who is designated as incompetent.
NC Department of Health and Human Services
Autism Society of NC
The Rethinking Guardianship initiative has FAQs for information to help make informed decisions about adult guardianship and alternatives to guardianship.
The Arc of NC LIFE guardianship is a program designed to help advocate for and protect the health and safety of individuals to ensure that their civil and human rights are not violated.
Disability Rights of NC
What legal arrangements should my family consider for the security of my child?
Parents of children with special needs and/or disabilities can have unique concerns regarding the future. It is important to set up a plan that ensures that your child is well taken care of and your wishes are addressed.
At times, setting up a plan will need to involve an attorney or other professionals to make sure your child and your plans are legally protected. Some considerations are listed here:
Where can I find an attorney that specializes in special needs planning?
A Special Needs Trust can be an important tool in protecting an individual’s disability benefits. The Trust can help cover costs of general living expenses, special therapies, recreational costs, and other expenses not covered by insurance. The key consideration here is choosing a competent legal professional who has expertise in the field of estate planning, elder law, and/or special needs planning. It is helpful to ask friends for information about who they would recommend and why.
How do I make future financial plans for my child with disabilities?
For parents of a minor or adult child with disabilities, making specific and legal plans ahead of time can be crucial in guaranteeing a loved one’s secure financial future. There are options to consider such as an ABLE account, Social Security benefits, and insurance options.
What is an ABLE Account?
The 2015 NC Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act paved the way for special, tax-advantaged savings accounts that allow individuals with disabilities to save money without endangering Social Security Income, Medicaid, and other supports. NC ABLE Program accounts are administered by the Department of State Treasurer. This program allows qualified individuals with disabilities including Autism to save on their own to meet today’s needs and to help accomplish long-term financial goals. Parents as guardians (of the person) in NC can open the ABLE account for their child. Get the latest information on eligibility, enrollment, contributions, “gifting,” guardianship, checking/debit card features, qualified disability expenses, and more.
What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
SSI is a federal income supplement program designed to help elderly, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income. It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. SSDI supports individuals who are disabled and have a qualifying work history, either through their own employment or a family member (spouse/parent).
The differences between SSI and SSDI are highlighted here:
Social Security Disability and SSI Hotline:
Call 800-772-1213 or 919-790-2782
Understanding and applying for SSI for children and those over age 18 years:
What is the Innovations Waiver and how can this help my child?
The NC Innovations Waiver is a Federally approved 1915 C Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waiver (HCBS Waiver) designed to meet the needs of Individuals with Intellectual or Development Disabilities (I/DD) including those with autism (based on meeting eligibility criteria) who prefer to get long-term care services and supports in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting. Waiver services are administered by a local management entity/managed care organization (LME/MCO) which facilitates services and oversees a network of community-based service providers. Individuals who receive waiver funding (and their parents if needed) work with their team to develop a Person Centered Plan of Care and request the services and supports they need.
To locate your LME/MCO, based on individual’s county of residence, click on the DHHS website below:
How should I plan for a mental health crisis?
People with developmental disabilities might also be diagnosed with mental health challenges throughout their life. If you are concerned that your child is exhibiting social-emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges, contact your local LME/MCO to find out what types of crisis services are available for your child in your area.