Life Care Planning for Children With a Traumatic Brain Injury

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As the medical profession increasingly regards a child's traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a chronic disease rather than an event, parents and caregivers of children who suffer from a TBI are being advised to prepare a life care plan for the injured children.

What is a Life Care Plan?

A life care plan is an organized plan to meet the current and future needs of individuals who have experienced a catastrophic injury. Life care plans are based on a comprehensive assessment of the injury victim's medical condition and on a projection of the victim's ongoing health care needs. Life care plans take into account current limitations with which injury victims must struggle, including mental and physical impairments, as well as changes in those limitations that the victim will probably experience as he or she ages.

Life care planners distill an enormous amount of information into a concise document that can be easily understood by parents, by people who care for the injury victim, by insurers, and by jurors. Life care plans make recommendations for future care and include an estimate of the costs associated with those recommendations. Life care planners are expected to adhere to the practice standards of their profession as they develop life care plans.

Life care planners typically meet with the injured individual and with his or her family to get a better sense of the current impact of the injury on that person's life. Life care planners assess the injury victim's home environment to determine whether modifications may be required to accommodate the injury. They anticipate the living environment the injury victim may require if the victim's condition worsens over time.

Life care planners also consult with the injury victim's medical team to develop a full understanding of the nature of the victim's condition. When the injury victim is a child, life care planners may want to supplement the knowledge of pediatric health care providers by consulting with neurologists and other experts who have experience managing traumatic brain injuries over the course of a lifetime.

What Are the Components of a Life Care Plan for a Child With a TBI?

Life care planners understand that a child who has experienced a TBI suffers from an evolving condition. They work to anticipate the child's future needs as the condition changes over the course of time. A key goal of the life care plan for a child with a brain injury is to ensure that the child will have an equal opportunity to live, learn, play, and work in his or her community.

A life care plan for a child with a TBI may include:

  • Recommendations for classroom accommodations. Most children who suffer from a TBI will eventually return to school. Learning disabilities and cognitive impairments may impair their ability to function in a classroom setting. Their success may require adapting the learning environment to their needs, developing strategies to cope with their learning disabilities, and involving support services from special education providers. School districts have an obligation to develop individualized plans to meet those needs, but the recommendations made by life care planners often help school districts understand what needs to be done to fulfill that obligation.
  • Recommendations that allow one-on-one neuropsychological testing to occur in the context of a classroom setting.
  • Identification of support services that will benefit the child now and that are likely to be needed in adulthood.
  • Identification of support services that will help the child's family cope with the difficulty of raising a child with special needs.
  • Identification of modifications in the child's living environment that will make it easier for the child to function.
  • Identification of living facilities that are best positioned to help the injury victim as his or her condition evolves over time.
  • Recommendations for strategies and resources that will assist the victim in coping with physical disabilities (such as reduced mobility) that are likely to arise or to worsen over time.
  • Recommendations for vocational training and rehabilitation services that will allow the child to function independently or with minimal care after entering adulthood.
  • Recommendations of support groups and other resources that will help the injury victim avoid a sense of isolation or shame as a result of his or her limitations.

How Do Personal Injury Lawyers Use Life Care Plans?

A life care planner can be a valuable asset to an attorney who helps victims of catastrophic injuries receive just compensation. Lawyers often bring life care planners into the case at an early stage. A life care planner's review of the injured child's medical records can contribute valuable insights into the child's condition. They can also help the attorney develop questions that should be posed to the child's neurologist and other members of the child's medical team.

Life care planners keep abreast of local and national resources that can benefit the attorney's client. They are well positioned to recommend rehabilitation programs, attendant care, residential care, community services, tutors, and other resources that help accident victims cope with brain injuries.

Identifying the child's likely needs over the course of the child's remaining life serves two valuable purposes. One purpose of life care planning is to benefit the injured child by giving the child's parents, teachers, and care providers the information they need to assure that the child's present and future needs are met. The information provided by doctors and other service providers to the families of TBI victims can be overwhelming. Condensing that information into a single document helps an injured child's parents and caregivers understand the big picture.

A life care plan also enables the child's personal injury lawyer to determine the cost of providing for the child's lifetime needs. With the help of an economist, the lawyer can project those costs into the future and then determine their present value (the amount of money that needs to be invested today to assure adequate income to meet the child's lifetime needs). The lawyer will use the results of that analysis when presenting settlement demands to an insurer or evidence to a jury. The lawyer's goal, assisted by the life care plan, is to obtain adequate compensation to pay a lifetime of expenses associated with healthcare and well-being.

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