During the 1980s, family support took on broader meanings. The range of family support services was seen in ten broad categories:
- Outreach (information and referral, prevention and public information)
- Training of family members and other caregivers (including specialized behavioral and developmental services, sibling services)
- Counseling (genetic counseling, personal adjustment, family dynamics)
- Respite (day or overnight, in-home and out-of-home, sitter companions, host families, parent exchange networks)
- Special assistance services (home habilitation, home care, and nutritional services)
- Financial assistance
- Housing assistance (adaptive equipment and home modifications)
- Crisis Intervention.
The Home and Community Based Waiver and "Katie Beckett" Amendments opened the door for increased family support programs and approaches.
The use of vouchers and cash subsidies to families in the 1980s laid the groundwork for ever expanding power in the hands of families to control the nature of the support they receive.
Michigan's Family Support Subsidy Act set the pace in 1983. The Act provided for monthly payments to families with children with severe disabilities.
The program focused on reducing out-of-home placements. By 1998, 21 states reported using cash subsidies and another five developed new subsidy programs providing families with more flexibility and discretion in how their family support funds are spent.
From 1986 to 1990 funding for family support programs almost tripled (in 1998 adjusted dollars, funding increased from just of $100 million in 1986 to just under $300 million in 1990).
The number of families increased dramatically as well – approximately 60,000 in 1986 to 150,000 in 1990.