Diversity & Inclusion

Parents of Special Needs Kids Finding Support at Work

Last month, Diversity Insight writer Tammy Binford explored the legal issues involved when employees must juggle work and special-needs parenting collide. Now, she looks at how employers can help their employees balance work and their obligations as parents of special needs children.

By Tammy Binford

 Parents of children with special needs often look for support from family, doctors, schools, advocacy groups, and other parents. Just having someone to talk to can help parents find solutions when difficult issues come up. And now more parents are finding that support at work.

Some companies offer affinity groups for parents of children with special needs. Other helpful benefits include flexible scheduling, job-sharing, a favorable attitude toward part-time workers, employee assistance programs, and health plans that cover treatment for a variety of special needs.

Here’s a look at some of the benefits employers can use to help parents with special needs children.

Affinity Groups

Some employers support affinity groups, what some companies call Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that allow employees dealing with certain challenges to support each other. Microsoft is just one example. The company’s Parents ERG includes a subgroup for parents with special needs children.

“Our goal is to bring together people who are experiencing similar challenges in juggling parenting and working at Microsoft,” according to the company’s website. “The Parents ERG strives to create awareness at Microsoft of these challenges and to provide services and support that enable Parents ERG members to be good parents and good corporate citizens.”

 Health Benefits for Part-Time Workers

Health insurance is a high-priority benefit for parents of children with special needs. Companies that offer benefits to part-time workers may be highly valued by workers who need less than full-time work. Employees with special-needs children also need health plans that cover the kind of treatment and therapy that can help their children – services often not covered in employer-sponsored health plans.

Help with Child Care

Some employers make an effort to help employees find appropriate day care and may even provide onsite day care for children with special needs. Summer, when the kids aren’t in school, can be a special challenge, so some employers provide help there, too.

For example, Virginia Commonwealth University prepared a list last summer of options to help employees find appropriate activities for their children with special needs. The camps included a camp for children with mild to severe mental disabilities, learning disabilities, autism and attention deficit disorder; an Easter Seals camp for children with physical and cognitive disabilities or other special needs; and a long list of others.

Bank of America is another example of employers helping with day care. The December 2011 list of Working Mother magazine’s 10 best companies for working moms noted Bank of America’s resource and referral service that can help find special-needs caregivers.

Financial and Legal Advice

Parents of special needs children face challenges related to how their children will get along when they’re no longer children. Employers can be of help by offering assistance such as defense contractor Raytheon’s Mission: Health program. Among other things, according to the company’s website, the program offers help with estate planning for special-needs dependents. The company also offers flexible work arrangements, financial counseling services, and a group legal plan offering access to a nationwide network of attorneys who can help with a variety of legal matters.

General Referrals

Aerospace and electronics giant Northrup Grumman is among employers taking steps to help employees balance home and career by compiling information for employees. “We connect employees to disability-related information and resources, including assistive technology information, special-needs parenting contacts, and educational resources for parents of special-needs children,” according to the careers segment of the company’s website.

Just the ability to work outside the home often represents more of a challenge to parents of children with special needs than it does to other employees. A study reported online in March from the journal Pediatrics pointed out that parents of children with special needs often find themselves earning less than their peers who don’t have special-needs kids. So the support available in the workplace can be especially important.

The study, which focused on autism, reported that overall earnings in families of children with autism spectrum disorder are $17,763 less on average than earnings of families whose children don’t have health limitations and $10,416 less than families with children that have health limitations other than autism.

The lower earnings are a result of lower income from mothers, according to the study, since there was no significant average difference in fathers’ incomes. The study reported that families with children on the autism spectrum are nine percent less likely to have both parents working outside the home than other families.