Dream House gives medically fragile children a home

People Helping People

As time marches on, every single one of us gives at least a fleeting thought to living in a nursing home. Most of us shudder at the thought of calling any institution "home," even with the love and support of our families nearby. Most stays in nursing homes start at age 83 or so after a bout of illness or a broken bone. But for many medically fragile children, the same nursing homes housing the elderly are their homes, possibly from birth through adulthood.

Imagine being a child dependent on life-supporting treatments, medication, therapy or equipment to survive.

Imagine being a child who has been abused, abandoned or both.

Imagine living in a hospital room or nursing home for months, even years, because your family is incapable or unwilling to care for you.

There are approximately 6,000 medically fragile children in the state of Georgia. More than 2,000 of these are living in foster care, several hundred live in the metro Atlanta area and more than 100 are living in senior adult nursing homes. As medical life-saving techniques and treatments advance, there will be thousands more children added to this number.

There is a special organization designed to help these special health care needs children. It's called Dream House for Medically Fragile Children Inc. This organization provides staff and volunteers who are dedicated to supporting families and individuals who act as caregivers to medically fragile kids. Their dream is to provide the resources necessary to keep these children with their biological family if possible, and when it is not, find a foster or adoptive home where they can be loved and cared for without institutionalization.

To assist families in creating a "dream home" environment for the medically fragile children they care for, the Dream House staff offers three distinct programs in their "Learning for Life" educational series. The "Family for Keeps" program is Georgia's first comprehensive community-based, healthcare-focused, family-centered training for caregivers of medically fragile children. "Skills Lab Training," the second of the series, offers lab experience to assist caregivers in developing comfortable ways to perform basic care techniques and use medical equipment.

The "Community Education" part of the program includes conference presentations, workshops and in-services to acquaint the community with the needs of these special children.

Dream House does not work alone. This charitable organization is affiliated with many other metro Atlanta area agencies to provide health care equipment, supplies, home modifications, family activities, support groups and referrals to respite and health care services.

Advocacy is another critical component of the Dream House creed. The staff is dedicated to developing relationships with community leaders, public and private social service providers, child welfare agencies and government officials to raise awareness of Georgia's medically fragile children and find solutions to ease the medical costs required for their care. Dream House leadership was crucial in recent revisions to state licensing standards for child care institutions, as well as creating a universal definition of the medically fragile child.

Because caring for medically fragile children extends well beyond the Atlanta area, plans are developing for a statewide Dream House Resource Center in Conyers. The Center will offer health management classes, skill labs, respite care and daycare. Temporary residential placement will be available for children waiting while their biological, foster or adoptive family is trained and prepared to care for them. It is the vision of Dream House to establish a model of transitional care, which can be replicated across the nation.

Visit the Dream House Web site at www.dreamhouseforkids.org to learn more about this local organization and how you might help make a child's life brighter. The Wish List at Dream House always gets longer as the holidays approach. Maybe you could play Santa and help shorten it up!

Dream House is located at 615 Beaver Ruin Road, Suite B, Lilburn, GA 30047. The telephone number is 770-717-7410.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Laura Moore and Alice Eachus of Dream House for Medically Fragile Children Inc..

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