State representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Wilton parent Alison Jacobson hosted a forum for families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) Monday, Dec. 8 at Trackside Teen Center in Wilton. More than 50 people from area towns including Wilton, Westport, and Ridgefield attended the event.

The forum was designed to address the most pressing concerns expressed by families of people with intellectual disabilities:  what will happen to their family members if they outlive their parents and siblings and what will happen to their children when they turn 21 and age out of the state system?

Lavielle explained why the event was timely. “Feedback from a growing number of constituents has made it clear that the way services are provided in Connecticut to people with intellectual disabilities needs significant improvement, and we have formed a bipartisan legislative caucus in Hartford to address this issue,” she said.

During the event, Leslie Simoes of The Arc Connecticut, the state’s oldest advocacy organization for individuals with I/DD, gave an informal presentation about the status of state I/DD services.

Also on hand to answer questions were Fritz Gorst, regional director for the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR, Inc., a nonprofit located in Norwalk which provides services to individuals with I/DD and their families.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone, because different people have different needs, and it’s essential to work together with both DDS and private sector providers to identify the optimal ways of providing services. It’s also important to note that the state continues to face serious financial and budgetary problems. The legislature’s nonpartisan budget office has projected a nearly $3 billion deficit for the next biennium, and the administration has just cut the DDS budget by $5.5 million to address a $100 million shortfall in the current fiscal year. The legislature will have to be very vigilant to ensure that individuals with I/DD receive appropriate services,” Lavielle said.

Jacobson, who has a teenage son with intellectual disabilities, shared her personal experiences and concerns with the audience. “How will I know that my child will be safe when I am no longer here to take care of him?” she asked. She also said that while the DDS has a substantial budget for state-run institutions, there is too little funding for adults who receive care in private settings.

Simoes delivered a detailed presentation describing Connecticut’s dual system of services to the I/DD community, which relies on both state institutions and private providers like STAR, Inc. She also answered questions from concerned parents and members of the community in attendance, on topics concerning the future of Connecticut residential care options and funding.

All of the speakers encouraged members of the audience to communicate with their legislators before and during the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Jan. 7.

“The more you talk to us and the greater your involvement in the process, the more we can achieve on your behalf,” Lavielle said.

Residents with questions or concerns may contact Rep. Lavielle at 860.240.8700, or gail.lavielle@cga.ct.gov.