For many of us, we are lucky to have family members and friends. We cannot imagine having no one to turn to in times of need or crisis, or even just someone to call and say hello. But there are people in this situation. And among them, people who not only have no one to rely on or turn to, but who also have intellectual disabilities and are unable to make decisions about their own well-being. It is a sad reality, and these individuals are the most vulnerable in our communities.
Under the leadership of Guardianship Director Nicole Iole, JF&CS currently serves as legal guardian for more than 100 individuals (wards) deemed by the courts to be incompetent to make decisions regarding their health and/or welfare. They may have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, chronic mental illness, a brain injury or developmental disability. But they all have one thing in common: they need protection. They need someone who is legally responsible for decisions regarding their health and welfare and for the prudent use and protection of their assets. That is what JF&CS, as guardian, provides for people like Ted*.
Ted, a long-term resident at a state institution, was a diagnosed schizophrenic, intensely fearful and had extreme difficulty communicating with others. He suffered from additional mental health and mental retardation issues that affected his quality of life and his ability to care for himself and make appropriate decisions. Because of his intense fears and mental issues, Ted would often make poor decisions and would avoid emergency care and treatments when he needed medical intervention. He was unable to provide for himself and ensure his own safety and wellbeing.
Ted was appointed a guardian through JF&CS while he was institutionalized to make placement decisions and ensure that appropriate services were in place for his success. JF&CS’s duties as guardian of person include developing, coordinating and monitoring professional services needed by the individual ward, such as determining and monitoring residential care, consenting to and monitoring medical care and non-medical services such as education, training, social/wellness opportunities and counseling, and making end-of-life decisions when needed.
When the institution closed, it was suggested that Ted be moved to a group home. It was a significant challenge for Ted to acclimate and adjust to his new group home. He would not communicate with others or participate in activities, and would simply sit silently in a chair throughout the day. His difficulties adjusting proved to be a significant challenge for his caseworker.
Ted’s guardian identified his specific challenges and felt that with extra support, he could succeed in his new setting. His guardian worked with the residential program staff, his caseworker and the entire support system at the group home to help him overcome his debilitating fears, communicate and interact more with others.
His guardian’s intervention worked, and Ted is now successfully living in his group home and attending a day program, where he communicates and participates with others, and regularly goes to doctor’s appointments without a problem. He is even planning a vacation to a busy metropolitan location a few hours away in the near future, which would not have been possible before!
Before you read this, some of you may not have heard of the term “guardianship” or have been fully aware of what it is. It’s one of our less visible services, but nonetheless is central to our mission to look out for the vulnerable.
Our guardianship services include both private and government-funded guardianship and conservatorships (where we might work in partnership with the conservators who manage a client’s assets while we serve as guardian, managing the medical and personal care of the ward). And guardianship staff often works in conjunction with other JF&CS services, such as care management or special/critical needs.
We make decisions on behalf of our wards based on substituted judgment, meaning we make decisions based on what we believe our ward would decide if he/she had no impairment. And we value the input of involved family members, if these relationships exist.
Referrals come to us from many sources. Private pay referrals may be made by family members unable to serve as guardians themselves or from aging parents of an adult special needs child, by attorneys, hospitals, personal care/residential providers or agencies.
The JF&CS guardianship program follows all standards set forth by the National Guardianship Association and we are subject to the rigorous documentation and reporting requirements of the state and orphans court. We have one simple goal: to ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of those entrusted to our care.