Adapting to Scarcity.Sustainable Services [PDF]

Adapting to Scarcity:  Searching for a Sustainable Service System

John O’Brien


Scarcity troubles the future of services for people with developmental disabilities. Growing U.S. waiting lists for services signal insufficient funds to meet the identified service needs of more than 100,000 people for more than 200,000 different services, though data collection and reporting problems make estimates uncertain (Davis, 1997). Increasing difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified direct support workers testifies not only to insufficient funding to create an adequate career structure in existing services, but also to a crisis of meaning in the work of serving people with disabilities which leaves many workers trapped in jobs that are poorly paid because they are assumed to be no more than babysitting for inconvenient people of little value (Braddock & Mitchell, 1992; Larson & Lakin, 1999; Smull & Bellamy, 1991). When the service system fails to cope with scarcity, people with developmental disabilities and their families have no choice but to cope with the effects of scarcity. Making up for lack of necessary assistance, making do with poorly fitting living arrangements, and dealing with discontinuity and unpreparedness among service workers imposes hardship and loss of opportunity on people with disabilities and their families, especially their mothers and sisters (Hayden & DePaepe, 1994; Traustadottir, 1995).