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Planning for Special Needs

Planning for Special Needs


Creating and maintaining a family always comes with unexpected highs and lows.  The birth of a child is a joyous event, regardless of the challenges. When a child is born with special needs—whether developmental or medical—parents can face unique challenges that can initially feel overwhelming.

When first learning their child has special needs, parents face a steep learning curve, says Kathy Netten, a social worker with the complex care program at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto. Parents need to learn medical terms, how to navigate the healthcare system and how to advocate effectively. Because many conditions are discovered in infancy, they are often learning how to be parents for the first time. And, they may also be grieving.

Sick Kids has over 50 social workers like Ms. Netten who provide counselling, therapy and support services for families with special needs children. “We are available to help parents find resources and work effectively with care teams, to problem solve when there are challenges, and for the very difficult decision-making,” she says.

From her experience, Ms. Netten says parents will often push themselves to physical and mental exhaustion to benefit their child. “The key is to find a balance between hope and despair, even under the most difficult of circumstances. Hope will allow parents to take care of their own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs so they can care for the developmental and medical needs of their child.”

Parents must also be mindful that financial questions are not forgotten at this most critical time, only to become an additional burden later on. While it can be difficult to think about long-term financial concerns, a firm financial foundation will not only protect your family, it will also free you to focus on the physical and emotional needs that only you can meet.

For parents of special needs children, this can be even more important. A typical family will see income increase over time. However, for families with special needs children—especially those that have the most complex needs—literature shows that income actually decreases. Medication and equipment costs, time taken from work, and lack of knowledge of available assistance programs are all contributors.

A comprehensive financial plan for families in this situation will:

  • Clarify your current financial position and options
  • Identify potential future costs and/or obstacles
  • Review available government programs and benefits
  • Develop your estate plan to protect all of your beneficiaries

To review your situation and explore how a personalized plan would benefit your family, please contact Sara at 519-569-7526 or [email protected].


Originally published by Financial Planning Standards Council. Adapted with permission.

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Sara McCullough
May 17, 2024
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Fraser Lang
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