Text: Michaela Medveďová / Sara R. Newell
Needless to say, when a young person with special needs turns 18, their disability doesn't simply go away. If a young person was dependent on the support of their caretakers before, their situation does not change just because their cake suddenly celebrates 18 candles.
In a previous article, we have covered some of the issues that come with this transition into adulthood. In this issue, we will dive deeper into two areas of help in adulthood, namely the possibilities of public financial support and legal guardianship.
Public financial support
In some cases, a young person with a disability might require and be eligible for public financial support due to their disability. Ret&Råd Advokater compiles a few means of financial support available for a person with a disability after they turn 18:
Early retirement: A young person with a disability might be awarded an early pension after turning 18. Ret&Råd reports that "the early retirement pension (førtidspension) "is independent of assets. This means that the child can have child savings, inheritance and other assets without it being decisive for the size of the early retirement pension. In return, income, including income from the assets, will be offset against the benefit." However, the rules for granting early retirement for someone younger than 40 had been tightened in 2013.
Housing insurance: If the young person lives in a rented space, they might be entitled to housing insurance. Ret&Råd reports that "the benefit will only be reduced if the applicant and other residents in the home have a total asset that exceeds 779.800 DKK (2021). Any assets of children do not count." A special set of rules may apply if a person has a severe mobility impairment.
Reimbursement for additional expenses due to a disability: a person with special needs who has turned 18 might still have additional expenses due to their disability. However, as reported in the previous article, support, such as vital assistance at home, can be discontinued after a child turns 18.
If a child cannot take care of themselves, their circumstances, and their finances due to having a severe disability, their parents or caretakers can apply for guardianship (værgemål), allowing the guardian to have full or partial control over the young person's affairs. To become a guardian, contact the Family Court (Familieretshuset). They will process your application and come up with the decision.
If a guardianship application is successful, the guardian must only act on the young person's behalf in the scope covered by the guardianship order, and this scope depends on the individual situation and needs of the person. If a guardian is appointed for your child and you don't believe they are taking care of your child's needs to the fullest extent possible, you can request that the Family Court appoint a different guardian.
However, as we reported last year, applying for guardianship and having it granted leaves a lot to be desired. While the earliest you can apply for guardianship for your child is eight weeks before their 18th birthday, the Family Court might take more than eight weeks to process your application.
Does the transition to adulthood work smoothly?
A study from the Danish Appeals Board commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Elderly reviewed 17 cases of transition from childhood to adulthood in Denmark's largest municipalities, along with interviews with eight young people.
The study stressed the importance of having fixed procedures to handle the transition. It highlighted the work of municipalities with youth units (red. counsellors who work with youth with disabilities when they are coming of age and up to the age of 30) - as this contributes to knowledge sharing across disability services for children and adults.
The study included interviews with disabled youth, showing difficulties concerning transitions associated with reimbursement for additional expenses due to a disability, along with pointing out that "there is less flexibility in everyday life, for example, it is more difficult to go on holiday with support. The young people also point out that they lack support in moving away from home and achieving increased independence."
One of the tragic examples of cutbacks in disability assistance when turning 18 is the story of Jane Risager's multi-handicapped daughter, as reported by Jyllands-Posten. When Jane's daughter turned 18, the municipality cut back her personal and practical help from 67 hours to only 22 hours. More stories like hers can be found in our previous article.
As Charlotte Broman Mølbæk, a Danish politician and member of the Danish parliament, writes in her commentary for Altinget: "...as a 17-year-old citizen, you can get up on Tuesday with the allocated and justified help from the municipality, only to wake up on Wednesday in the same body and with the same disability on your 18th birthday, only to find that the municipality has used that occasion, to discontinue the majority of the assistance hours you had, even though your need for assistance is of course every bit as necessary today as it was yesterday."
Appealing the decision with the Danish Appeals Board might not be the fastest solution either. Charlotte writes: "You become a pawn in the system as time passes. While the case lies in the pile of papers, either with your municipality or with the Danish Appeals Board, you cannot get the necessary help and support you depend on to live a dignified life.
We must stop the municipalities' financial incentive to make mistakes or handle cases inadequately. Because even though in 2019, the Danish Appeals Board overturned a whopping 42 percent of the municipalities' decisions, there is a significant dark figure among the affected citizens and their relatives, who simply do not have the resources or the time to appeal municipal rejections."