Lakin, K. C. (1998). On the outside looking in: Attending to waiting lists in systems of services for people with developmental disabilities. Mental Retardation, 36, 157-163.
All over the United States, thousands of persons with developmental disabilities are awaiting support and services that they desperately need. They are not told how long they will have to wait when they request services and are added to the lists, and these people are often forced to wait patiently for indefinite amounts of time. There are several reasons that waiting lists continue to grow despite the fact that more people are receiving services than ever before. The majority of the people requesting services are adults who belong to the substantially larger baby boom generation. Also, people with developmental disabilities, as well as all people, are living longer than they used to, so services are needed over a more prolonged period of time. Since these effects obviously cannot be controlled, a number of things must be done in order to stop the problems caused by growing waiting lists. First, people, government officials in particular, must be informed about the present situation. Second, people already receiving aid should not be allowed to receive more than a defined minimum amount of support before others in the community have the opportunity to receive that set minimum as well. Third, any higher cost services that lack long-term cost effectiveness should be replaced with more efficient alternatives. Finally, a great deal of careful planning by leaders will be necessary to carry out these objectives in the most effective way possible. The goal should be to support families, so that children and youth with developmental disabilities will be able to remain in their own homes with their natural families. While these people are awaiting services they need to be receiving support constantly. The waiting period can actually be a beneficial time for learning and reflecting on alternatives. It should involve person-centered planning and service visitations to let those waiting know that they are not forgotten. The families should also be given an estimate of how long they should expect to wait before services are provided so that they may plan accordingly. Once united, people with disabilities and their families can be the most powerful force in bringing about these vital changes.