In Texas, the number of guardianships grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015. Nearly $3 billion in personal wealth is under control of guardians in Texas, according to one recent estimate from state researchers.
But even those who oversee the system and write its laws are only recently coming around to a troubling fact: In much of Texas, there is nobody watching these cases.
In recent years Lubbock has come to epitomize the dangers of guardianship when nobody’s watching. As Rosamond Bradley recovered and tried in vain to have her rights restored, courts in Lubbock and nearby counties placed more than 50 people who did need protection in the care of strangers who lived hundreds of miles away, visited rarely, and walked off with their money. Lubbock has particularly weak oversight. Last fall, state investigators began a survey that is revealing a lack of accountability and potential for abuse all over Texas. Several years ago, Lubbock conducted a similar self-audit, but after briefly reckoning with its shortcomings, the county’s guardianship system appears as ill-equipped as ever.
What qualifies you to run a stranger’s life? In Texas, it’s a brief class followed by a 100-question test. Private guardianship is a small but growing profession, and Texas’ 358 certified guardians come from all backgrounds. Some are nurses or social workers. Others have little or no relevant experience.
Most guardianships, by far, are awarded to family members or friends. But if someone doesn’t have a family member nearby, or a judge decides the family is a risky choice, the court appoints a professional, typically paid from the life savings of the person they’re looking after. In Texas, 72 such professionals work within a state-run program in the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), with supervisors who review their work. Locally run programs in a few large counties employ dozens more, and around 50 active guardians are independent.
In 2005, [Former El Paso Probate Judge Max] Higgs began alerting lawmakers that the state had become far too permissive. He spread stories of elderly and disabled people living in squalid conditions, even after visits from Adult Protective Services. Lawmakers passed reforms that year, requiring licenses for professional guardians, among other changes.
|Attorney Terry Hammond|
Full Article and Source:
Who Guards the Guardians?