New Illinois ABLE Program Helps Families with Special Needs

ilRaising a child with special needs can be expensive. Last week, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs unveiled the Illinois ABLE plan to help families save for future expenses. The plan was developed by the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, a consortium of 13 states that worked with Congress and state legislatures to create this special investment program that allows for tax-free investment growth when savings are spent on qualifying disability-related expenses.

The plan is similar to the 529 college savings plans in that families would be allowed to set aside money for future qualified expenses, invest these funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid some tax penalties on the fund. Eligible individuals can open the account for themselves, or an authorized individual can open an account on their behalf. To be eligible, a person must:

  • Be entitled to SSI or SSDI because of their disability
  • Have their disability present before age 26

Annual contributions per beneficiary are limited to the federal gift tax limit, which is currently $14,000. Like the 529 college savings plan, anyone can contribute to an ABLE plan, including relatives and friends. The Illinois ABLE plan is designed to protect an individual’s federal benefits, and up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account would not be counted against a person’s eligibility for SSI or other federal means-tested programs. ABLE account holders are still eligible for Medicaid regardless of their account balance.

Withdrawals from an ABLE account are tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses. These are any expenses that are incurred as a result of living with a disability and that are intended to improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Legal fees
  • Financial management
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Oversight and monitoring
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The state treasurer’s office has created a fact sheet to share with families who may benefit from the Illinois ABLE plan. The Illinois ABLE website provides additional information as well as providing a fast and easy way to sign up and create an Illinois ABLE account.

Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-35-04-amSocial media is one of the great parenting challenges since most of us grew up well before social media and always connected devices were common. Teaching your child how to be responsible online will continue to be a struggle as new social media platforms create new challenges. National PTA’s The Smart Talk, created in partnership with LifeLock, can help families set up guidelines for online behavior.

Kari Kampakis, a blogger and author of the book Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media, recently posted a list of five guiding principles to use in teaching our children to be safe and responsible online. These principles are aimed at having our children develop the habits and skills to know how to have their online presence be safe and healthy, just like we teach our children to be safe in the real world. These five principles are:

  1. Remember your reputation is at stake. Every choice you make reveals your character.
  2. Consider three questions before you post: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
  3. Seek to be kind, not popular.
  4. If you aren’t feeling the love, stay off social media.
  5. Social media should supplement your relationships, not replace them.

Mrs. Kampakis’s article goes into depth on each of these principles. Each point also provides a jumping off point for you to have a conversation with your child about social media, online behavior, and responsibility. Finally, it is important that we as adults set a good example of positive behavior online. Our children learn much more from what we do than from what we say.

Photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer under Creative Commons license.

Cyberbullying is Not a Technology Issue

Cyberbullying—bullying behavior committed through social media, apps, and other online activities—is increasingly common. According to several research studies, over half of teens say they have been victims of cyberbullying. Illinois PTA has provided information for families on cyberbullying and how to identify the warning signs of cyberbullying. Because of its online nature, it’s easy to think of cyberbullying as a technology, but a recent article on LinkedIn by Reginald S. Corbitt says that cyberbullying is a social issue, not a technological one.

Mr. Corbitt, the founder of SafeCyber, an organization that aims to educate communities about online safety, notes that cyberbullying is not separate from bullying. It is simply bullying in another form, and as such is about relationship power and control. Such bullying is also known as Relational Bullying. Relational Bullying is more common among girls, and uses social manipulation such as group exclusion, spreading rumors, sharing secrets, and recruiting others to dislike a person. It can be used by bullies to improve their social standing and to control others.

Mr. Corbitt suggests two keys to addressing cyberbullying. The first is teaching social and emotional resilience in our schools and communities. Illinois PTA has discussed how to build social and emotional learning and problem solving skills in children, and Illinois was the first state in the nation to have social and emotional learning standards for all grades from Pre-K through high school. These skills provide students the tools they need to address, prevent, and intervene in bullying and cyberbullying situations.

The second key is creating partnerships between schools, families, and community organizations like PTA that allow for open discussions of bullying both online and offline and provide opportunities to education everyone involved in a child’s life on the topic. As Mr. Corbitt notes, one middle school principal in Maryland states that he and his administration spend 85% of their time dealing with conflicts between students that began on social media or in text messages. National PTA’s Connect for Respect is a ready-to-use program to facilitate discussions among families and among students on bullying issues.

Finally, Mr. Corbitt notes that because cyberbullying is about behavior and not technology, it is important that efforts to address the problem focus on the enhancement of positive relationships and the development of behavioral skills. He also notes that it is also important for adults to set an example with their behavior, as our children will do what you do quicker than they will do what you say.

How to Help Your Child with Writing Assignments

writing-711281_960_720Learning to write well can be difficult for children, but it is a critical skill that they will likely use every day as adults. From holding a pencil correctly and forming letters to spelling, punctuating, and using grammar correctly to conveying their ideas, there are many tasks when writing that a child can struggle with. Great Schools has a list of 19 tips to help your child with writing. Here are some key ones:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher if they are struggling
  • Don’t write their assignments for them. Be a coach.
  • Make sure your child sees you writing in your home—notes on the refrigerator, thank you notes for gifts, e-mails, etc.
  • If they are overwhelmed by a longer writing assignment, help them break it into smaller pieces.
  • Emphasize that writing well always involves revising what you write. Teach them to get ideas down in the first draft and then have them organize the ideas and correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation in the second draft.
  • When an assignment is done, have them read it aloud. They may find things they want to revise that don’t sound right.
  • With long-term writing projects, help them create a schedule over the time they have to complete the assignment.
  • Writing well takes lots of practice, so encourage your child to find ways to write every day.

For more on these and other tips, be sure to check out the full article at Great Schools.