Sunday, August 27, 2017

As I See It: Protections for our most vulnerable

As parents, there are few moments that cause more anxiety than entrusting your child to the care of someone else. Regardless of the circumstances your first concern is always their well-being, and your worst fear is always a phone call from a caregiver, teacher or babysitter that something is wrong.

For parents like the Chans of Auburn, whose son, Nicky, is intellectually disabled and non-verbal, that fear is magnified many times over. Every parent can understand the terror that the Chans felt in reading a report by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission confirming that their son, Nicky, had been inappropriately restrained and struck by a caretaker. The abuse involved incidents on at least two different days.

Like any parents, the Chans sought to ensure their Nicky was safe, and that this abuser could never take advantage of their or another family’s trust again. The man who abused their child was fired from the day program. But when the Chans asked what would prevent him from finding employment at another provider, the lack of an answer was deafening.

This is what led Nicky’s mother, Cheryl Chan, to tell her story to a state legislative committee.

Research shows that individuals with disabilities, like other vulnerable populations, are more likely to be abused. Additionally, cognitive or speech difficulties in communicating what happened, and the burdens disabled people have in accessing the judicial system, and consequently lower rates of police follow-up and prosecution make criminal convictions extremely difficult. Despite these challenges, a criminal conviction history currently is the only way to prevent an abusive caretaker from being hired by an unknowing provider.

We commend the efforts of those who work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially the talented and compassionate caretakers who often work difficult hours for little pay. However, it is deeply concerning that there are no other means to prevent an abuser from switching agencies or providers to once again gain access and abuse individuals with disabilities.

That is why we have filed legislation to establish, for the first time in Massachusetts, a registry of individuals found by the state’s Disabled Persons Protection Commission to have committed substantiated abuse or financial exploitation on individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We have worked extensively with victim families, disability advocate organizations and the relevant state agencies to address this critical issue. It was to help achieve such legislation that Cheryl Chan jointed us in testifying at a recent public hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities in support of the legislation and to share her son’s troubling experience.

The registry would be based on the findings of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, which already investigates all allegations of abuse against individuals with disabilities. The legislation would mandate that providers serving these populations would be required to check the registry, which would be managed by the state Department of Developmental Services, during the application process. Providers would be prohibited from hiring such individuals listed in the registry. The bill also creates a robust appeals process for those who are listed, and includes important whistleblower protections for those reporting abuse.

Despite the Commonwealth’s history of leading on issues of injustice, we have fallen behind the pack on this issue. At least 13 states have a disability abuse registry and 40 percent of the states in this country have some form of developmental abuse registry, including New York and New Jersey.

Stories like Nicky’s are not uncommon. At the public hearing, another parent testified about an individual being arraigned on charges of abuse in the morning and applying for a new job at another hiring agency the same afternoon. As state legislators who are tasked with the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, and as parents, these stories offend our conscience.

But the evidence for action goes beyond these anecdotes. A federal audit of Massachusetts group homes from January 2012 to January 2014 found that an alarming number of emergency room visits by developmentally disabled Medicaid beneficiaries that involved reasonable suspicion of abuse and neglect were not reported by employers to the state DPPC.

Enacting this registry will help disrupt a cycle of abuse of individuals with disabilities, and put in place common-sense protections that families in the Commonwealth deserve.

Now is the time for Massachusetts to live up to its moral obligations, and care for those who are not always able to care for themselves.

Full Article & Source:
As I See It: Protections for our most vulnerable

1 comment:

Kamala said...

Parents of adults with intellectual disabilities must worry all the time. I think this is why parents end up doing all the care and then they get tired and there's no respite. We as a nation have to do better.