A Multnomah County family shares its story of being on giving, receiving end of Developmental Disabilities Services
When Claudia Place was born with a rare genetic condition nearly 60 years ago, her mother Barbara drove 70 miles round-trip to north Portland to find a school that would educate her. When Claudia outgrew that school, Barbara Place opened her own school in 1967 in Gresham.
Today, 45 years after its pioneering work to help people with developmental disabilities, Eastco Diversified Services still provides critical jobs and housing in Gresham.
As Multnomah County celebrates March as Developmental Disabilities Month, Claudia Place and her family are living examples of why so much has changed.
The little sister who sat next to Claudia on those long rides from outside Sandy to North Portland in the 1960s, Karen Curry, now works as a Multnomah County Developmental Disabilities Services Division caseworker. And Karen’s daughter, Stacie, works in foster care with adults who have disabilities.
“Significant changes happened in our world because of Claudia’s place in it,’’ says Patrice Botsford, director of the Multnomah County Developmental Disabilities Services Division.
Claudia Place is among 4,400 Multnomah County clients with developmental and intellectual disabilities. And her little sister Karen Curry is one of the county case managers who connects with those clients more than 60,000 contacts a year. The division’s caseload has shot up nearly 144 percent in the last decade, from 1,862 clients in 2002 to 4,533 clients today.
Most of the clients have been in the community all along, but only became connected through the division’s outreach. Beginning in 2005, the division held family forums to reach out to Spanish speakers and other culturally specific communities. Back then, there were 1.5 case management positions devoted in the county to Spanish speakers. Today, there is one supervisor and eight full-time case managers for Spanish-speaking clients.
The division is looking even further ahead. Botsford said the county’s Developmental Disabilities Services Division is exploring how technology can give case managers more time in the field with clients solving such challenges and less time checking in at the office.
“We are stewards of the public trust, both in terms of money and services.’’ she said. “It’s a person with developmental disability we serve, not the system.”
Many of the efforts to increase clients’ choices and independence have been informed by people like Claudia, the first generation of people who lived in their communities, instead of institutions.
“They’re pioneers in our system,’’ says her sister Karen Curry.
From the beginning, when her parents tried to enroll Claudia in school, the administrators told them, “You know Claudia doesn’t belong here.”
“How do you know that?” Barbara Place would respond.
“My mother is quiet, not loud at all, but she has a determination that runs to the DNA level,’’ Karen Curry says.
Attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities changed as they became members of the community. Karen Curry remembers when people would stare at Claudia in public. But they would quickly warm to Claudia’s outgoing personality once they met.“She is very social and knows everyone,” Karen Curry says. “She’s always up to date on pop culture and the news, she is just a really fun person.”
That personality has made Claudia a valued employee at Burger King, where she has worked for 18 years.
“Years ago, a doctor on the hill asked me how far I thought Claudia would go,’’ Barbara Place, 85, recalls. “I said I think she’ll do whatever she wants and be successful, and she has been.”
But, for the first time, Claudia, 60, is thinking about retiring. The idea first surprised her case manager and her family. Karen Curry says it can be a challenge for someone with disabilities to retire as group homes may lack staff during the day. And other options for volunteering or taking another paying job may not be apparent.
But she says as older clients age, case managers can help them identify a bucket list—the list of things to accomplish in the next phase of life.
“They have things they still want to do, and they’ve had less ability than the generation that followed to get out there and get things checked off,’’ she says. “You don’t want retirement to just mean not going to work.’’
Karen says making the connections is one of the best parts of being a caseworker. One client, for instance, who had always dreamed of running the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska, got the chance to run sled dogs in Bend. He wore a helmet camera to capture the event and sent Karen the video.
So far, Claudia is considering becoming a volunteer somewhere she can help others.
“She is my mother’s daughter and has been that way all along.’’ Karen says. “Claudia’s always been more at home in giving than receiving services, and she has so much to give.”
For more information:
Developmental Disabilities Services Division, 503-988-3658