Family Support - formerly VISSIONS (Archived Program)

This is an archived program and therefore, may not contain current information.

Woman holding child

  • Mississippi has the highest rate of individuals with disabilities per population in the United States an estimated 350,000 people. This includes approximately 40,000 individuals with developmental disabilities.

  • A disproportionate number of young children with mental and physical disabilities have adolescent parents who are more likely to live below the poverty level and their children to have high rates of illness and mortality.

  • In 1998, the Mississippi public schools served 6,003 preschool children with disabilities.

  • In 1998, 61,778 children, birth through 21, were enrolled in special education in the Mississippi public schools. Of these, 1,446 had severe/low-incidence disabilities, 1,435 physical disabilities, 912 vision or hearing impairments, 468 emotional disabilities, and 53,409 mild to moderate disabilities.

  • The number of children receiving Social Security in Mississippi is double the Southeastern average and triple the national average.

  • Of the Mississippi children classified in 1998 as "educable mentally retarded," 4,518 were black and 1,162 were other. In the "specific learning disability" population, 16,326 were black and 11,564 were other.

  • Of the 5,268 students with disabilities who exited Mississippi schools in 1998-99, 690 graduated with a regular diploma, 1,713 received a certificate of completion, 30 reached maximum age, and 1,014 dropped out. It is estimated that 85 percent of youth with disabilities exiting Mississippi public schools remain unemployed or underemployed. 

Family support means different things to different families.

-Human Services Research Institute

Most children with disabilities live at home with their families. While life for all families nowadays is full of nonstop, day-to-day challenges, having a child with a disability complicates matters. Every family has unique needs, capabilities, and preferences, but families of children with disabilities often find the ordinary challenges faced by typical families can become extraordinary when providing support to a child with disabilities at home.

Family support programs make use of structured services and supports, as well as informal or natural supports from friends, neighbors, extended family, or community members. The idea is to provide whatever it takes for families of children with disabilities to live as much like other families as possible. Family support makes a positive difference in the life of the individual with a disability, as well as the lives of all family members.

Family support is family driven, easy to use, and flexible. Typical family support services include, but are not limited to




respite care


child care


communication/interpreter services


cash subsidies


employment training and placement


recreation services


counseling and crisis intervention


equipment and supplies


personal assistance services


specialized nutrition


self-advocacy training


homemaker assistance


home health services


housing assistance


home and vehicle modifications 

In 1995, all but one state Mississippi reported the presence of some type of formal family support program. The current model of services for individuals with disabilities in Mississippi can best be described as a patchwork of programs that have been developed over time, leaving gaps and shortcomings in the system. The dramatic increase in the number of Mississippi families who have children with disabilities requiring lifetime supports has created a vital need for systems change that will shift state policy to a more family-responsive system of services.

Project VISSIONS, a three-year project awarded in August 1999, brought together individuals with disabilities, families, advocates, providers, public managers, and community leaders to seek change and improvements by increasing the availability of family-centered supports.

The Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) was designated by the governor of Mississippi as the lead agency for this family support project. IDS is collaborated with three partner agencies the Mississippi Developmental Disabilities Council, the Mississippi Protection and Advocacy System, and the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities to establish a model statewide system of supports for families of children with disabilities that is family-centered, family-directed, culturally competent, community-centered, comprehensive, and coordinated.

Project VISSIONS published three detailed reports from information and data produced by this project:

The Basis for Change- a 32 page report
The Basis for Change Executive Summary – a four-page summary
A Vision for the Future and A Call for Action

For family supports to become the rule rather than the exception, the real requirement is not primarily an issue of funding but of commitment.