Dream House making strides in helping kids

Dream House making strides in helping kids By MICHELE GLASER



If you were a child dependent on life-supporting medication, treatment or equipment, If you were a child who is ready to leave the hospital but cannot because no one is there to take you home, If you were of school age but were not allowed to attend a community school, If you were being raised by hospital staff and volunteers, If you spent years inside a hospital with no means to go outside, If no one you knew ever came to visit you when you were in the hospital.

This is the life of a medically fragile child without a family. A medically fragile child is a child who has suffered an accident, an illness or abuse that has left him or her dependent on life-supporting medication, treatment or equipment. There are about 600 medically fragile children in metro Atlanta and about 6,000 throughout the state of Georgia.

The Dream House for Medically Fragile Children Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, offers resources and support for medically fragile children and their families. The Dream House has a fourfold mission: to save medically fragile children from institutional existence or abusive situations by providing temporary foster homes; to provide an effective teaching environment where kinship, foster and adoptive families can learn the knowledge and skills to care for these children in their own homes; to increase community awareness about the plight of these children; and to create partnerships that provide resources to grant the quality of life every child deserves.

As a pediatric nurse with nearly 20 years experience, Dream House founder Laura Moore identified a growing problem in the lives of medically fragile children. While today's advanced technology has increased our ability to save children who would have perished just a few short years ago, the outlook on the life they will lead looks dim. And because Georgia is sorely lacking in community facilities and resources, these stable but medically fragile children spend months and years in a hospital room.

Moore learned in her work that considerable research has documented the ill effects of a child experiencing prolonged exposure to an acute care environment. A child already struggling to cope with physical limitations does not have the ability, skills or reasoning to deal with the aspects of psychosocial, emotional and spiritual deprivation at the same time. Moore could not ignore the impact this has on a child's growth and development. Additionally, acute health care facilities simply are not equipped to provide long-term life care and are losing millions of dollars trying. Moore created the Dream House for Medically Fragile Children Inc. as a solution.

The Dream House organization owns a home in Lilburn that allows children to move from the hospital to a home environment while awaiting long-term adoption and foster care placement. This year, the Dream House introduced a comprehensive training program for family members and community members willing to support these families (relatives, teachers, bus drivers, church members, etc.). The education classes and skills labs help family members feel more comfortable taking care of the health care needs of their medically fragile child, thus reducing illness and the number of repeat hospital visits.

The Dream House's Bridging the Gap program assists families with expensive resources such as home renovations and medical equipment purchases. Through its partnerships with other organizations providing services to children, Dream House staff members help families navigate Georgia's large system of foster care services. Dream House is in a very exciting stage of growth. We are in the planning stages of building a large resource center to serve medically fragile children and families throughout the state. This resource center will be the first of its kind in the country and will be a model for other states facing the same crisis with medically fragile children. The Dream House Resource Center will provide housing for children awaiting long-term placement, medical day care and respite services, education classrooms and skills labs, and housing for family members learning to care for their children. The resource center will be located in Rockdale County.

If you would like more information about the Dream House for Medically Fragile Children Inc., please call us at 770-717-7410 or visit our Web site at www.dreamhouseforkids.org.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Michele Glaser of Dream House.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.