There are a few unusual but mention-worthy alternative housing concepts for young adults with special needs (YASNs). These don’t fall into the traditional categories, but we would be remiss to let them go without bringing them up.
The ‘Group Co-op’
An unusual option, but worth mentioning — in dozens of communities across the country, several families have united their funds to create a group home that isn’t a formal care agency, but a co-op. That is to say, they purchase, own, and maintain a home for a large group of YASNs, and they offer family support to the degree that they are able. Oftentimes, the co-op will hire caretakers, or occasionally will contract with an agency to provide caretakers.
The downside of a co-op is straightforward: once the families that have come together to form the co-op no longer have any children living in the home (which, depending on the specific special needs, may be anywhere from a couple of years to ‘the rest of their lives’), the co-op tends to disintegrate. Also, as family priorities change over decades, even co-ops with lifetime members can find themselves suddenly looking at dramatic shifts in funding and organization.
Foster Home Living / ‘Companion Care’
In a Foster Home situation, a YASN doesn’t so much leave home to live independently as they leave home to join another home. There are a number of reasons that this can be an extremely beneficial situation. It’s beneficial to the family the YASN is leaving, because it relieves them of the need to be the primary caretaker. It’s beneficial to the family accepting the YASN, because they were seeking someone to join their family, knowing what they were getting into. And it’s beneficial to the YASN, because moving into an entirely new home provides just as much horizon-expanding opportunities as moving into a group home, but with a dedicated ‘new family’ that they can learn, love, and rely upon.
For those YASNs that require constant care and love but still desire to make a break from their parents and first home, a foster home is a strong option — but there are drawbacks, just like there are in any foster situation. The potential of getting placed with a family that is not prepared for you (not your needs, those will be matched, but just you, the personality) is real, and some families rapidly discover that they’re not as cut out for fostering as they believed.
Supported/Assisted Farmstead Communities
More common a few decades ago but just starting to come back into vogue, a Farmstead community is just what it sounds like — a farm, ranch, or similar rural organization that takes in YASNs and provides them with a level of support appropriate to their needs. Often a Farmstead community is low- or no-cost to the family, accepting that the YASN will work for their room and board. For many, that alone is enough of a drawback that they wouldn’t seriously consider this option.
More common a few decades ago and almost unheard of today, there are still a few states that run large Developmental Centers for people with special needs, YASNs included. Somewhat akin to a college, a Developmental Center is a large institution that provides education, medical care, and other support in the attempt to ‘develop’ an individual with special needs to the point that they are capable of living independently. Developmental Centers are widely regarded as archaic, as the nationwide focus is strongly on community-oriented care nowadays.