Microboards: How They Can Help Kids with Special Needs


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The recent economic downturn has led to a drastic reduction in the funding available through states to children and families with disabilities. Less funding means children with special needs get fewer services. Accordingly, families may justifiably feel that they have lost control of the direction of their child’s development. They may feel that the high hopes they once had for their child’s education has become an impossible dream.

Microboards have gained momentum recently as a legal option that can put individuals with disabilities and their families and friends back in control.

The idea is a simple one: have the family and friends of a person with an intellectual or developmental disability retain control of the most important decisions affecting their loved one’s life goals. Microboards were first developed in Canada in the 1980s by David and Faye Wetherow. Today, the Pennsylvania Microboard Association states that more than 400 U.S.-based microboards exist in 20 states. The Texas Microboard Collaboration, a project of The Arc of Texas, defines a microboard as “a small group of committed family and friends who join together with an individual with a disability to create a non-profit organization.” Microboards are governed by a board of directors, which includes 5 to 7 family members and friends that have an interest in the wellbeing of the individual with special needs.

The board of directors of the microboard creates a “PATH,” or Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope. The path is like the mission statement of the microboard. It is person-centered and sets out a positive, goal-focused vision for the the microboard’s beneficiary.

Once the individual’s PATH is established, a microboard can be operated in one of two ways. The Arc of Texas provides an excellent summary of each option:

  • Natural Support. The Microboard can use readily available “natural” supports and resources by finding people willing to help in a systematic way and using generic community resources (i.e. housing program funding, grants from local banks, volunteer services, etc.). The corporate structure of the microboard ensures sustainability of the support network. It gives families peace of mind that something legal and concrete is in place with people who know and care for the individual.
  • Provider. If an individual receives Medicaid Waiver Program funding from the state, his or her microboard can apply to be a provider of Home and Community Services (HCS) or Texas Home Living (TxHmL) for the person. The microboard would manage all aspects of the individual’s care and hire staff who would be paid by the microboard with waiver program funding.

The first operating option–natural support–is fairly straightforward. A nonprofit entity can still be created, but is not as critical as in the second option. The “provider” option gives family and friends better control over the finances that pay for services for the individual with special needs. The microboard can build a build account for the benefit of the individual. With this money, the microboard can purchase necessities like home appliances and staff transportation to bring the individual to appointments. The microboard can also rent office space in the home of the individual. This transaction provides additional discretionary income for the individual and can be a critical component in funding services outlined in the individual’s PATH. Finally, one of the most important facets of the “provider” option is that the microboard can directly hire home living or direct-care workers. The microboard can also serve as the provider organization and receive Medicaid Waiver Program funding to pay staff.

Microboards are still a rare find, but they are growing in popularity because of the control they can return to families of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Many families are likely intimidated by the prospect of creating a nonprofit organization or establishing a trust. Putting together a “board of directors” sounds like a difficult undertaking. However, many families have found that the time and motivation invested in establishing a microboard has led to a satisfying result. Plus, a number of organizations around the country are providing free or discounted consulting services to get families started.

For more information on microboards, check out Texas Microboard Collaboration FAQs and a brochure on microboards written by The Arc of Texas. To get help with a microboard, you will likely find some great resources from your state’s chapter of The Arc of the United States.

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