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Legal Guardianship Houston Texas

Welcome back to capitol tonight with us is richard LaVallo, he is the legal director for Disability Rights Texas and David Sladen is administrative director for the State Office of Court Administration and both are here to talk about we would have to say an obscure but a national ground breaking state law that was passed here this last session over guardianship and you know when we’re talking about guardianship, David, I’ll start with you What were we talking about You know lots of times adults and at some point may.

Lose capacity to make decisions for themselves and they need someone to help them make those decisions, and when that happens of course one of the things that is an option for them is to go to a court and for the court to appoint someone to be able to make those decisions. The thing to know about guardianship is that it is the most restrictive alternative to decision making on their own and at the point where guardianships are created the individual loses all rights to make the decisions whether it be on where to live or to get married or even financial.

Decisions and someone else has been given authority to do that for them before I have richard jump in here, let’s look at some statistics when we’re talking about those who are baby boomers, for example, and this is some statistics that are combined from two different sources here, but one out of three of us are fiftyplus right now in america that are baby boomers so one out of three baby boomers right now, one out of five will be 65 by 2030 a quarter of the workforce will be 55 by just twenty 20 right down the road here and.

Supported Decision MakingAlternatives to Guardianship

Twenty percent of the workforce will be 65 by 2030 so David what do these statistics tell you as it relates to guardianship You know one of the most challenging things for the court system and for us as a state right now is the fact that there are so many individuals that are getting that age and what we know just by the the aging processes that some people are going to reach that point where they become incapacitated and what we’ve seen in just the past four years is.

Tremendous growth in the number of Guardianships in the state of Texas and what we what we know right now there are fifty thousand of these active guardianships in the state and it continues to grow and so we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing our best to provide individuals and society with choices as well as making sure the courts are prepared for this tremendous growth. Now, Richard, you represent the disability community and it’s interesting to see that there was quite a diverse coalition of organizations and and stakeholders that came to really push for this law but.

It’s not just about those who are over 50 is it that’s correct looking at statistics involving people with disabilities it’s pretty amazing. 51 of the Guardianships in Texas involved individuals that are 18 years old that are initiated at that age just as they are becoming adults and what happens typically is that the school districts tell the parents of kids as they turn 18 that they need to get guardianship so typically what happens to families is they go out and get a full guardianship over their child that just turned 18 and.

As david has said it’s really restrictive and it strips the individual with a disability of their rights to make decisions about where they live work where they want to go to school and all those important civil rights that we all have. So when we’re talking about some of these restrictions i mean clearly guardianship is there to protect, right There was a reason for it. So you’re not advocating not having guardianship, but tell us about what the law does to try to mitigate some of the problems associated. Well.

You know I think very often people have perceptions of people with disabilities and assume just because they have a disability they’re incapacitated and can’t make decisions and I think that the most important part of this law is that it requires the court to look at whether or not a person needs a guardianship, whether or not they have access to supports and services and in texas, we’ve developed a lot of new programs that serve people with disabilities that allow them to live integrated into the community with support through caseworkers.

And small group homes and things like that and so now the courts are required to consider that before they they appoint a guardian which i think is very significant. So that terminology that I hear supported decisionmaking and I let both of you kind of jump in on that but what are we talking about then because it is it more than just alternatives to guardianship Well, supported decisionmaking from the disability community is significant and its considered by the Texas Legislature as one alternative to guardianship but texas is the first state in the Union to.

Establish a supporting decisionmaking process and what it does is it allows a person with a disability to establish a relationship with a trusted friend relative or someone else they’d know who can assist them in making decisions about where they live, work, medical care, what have you, and so it’s different than a guardianship and it’s different than a power of attorney where you delegate the authority to thirdparty this allows a person with a disability to be assisted in making the decision just like we do with our kids.

And in providing that type of guidance and support. David, what else would you want people to know about this new law as we said it i mean it is groundbreaking nationally nothing like it in the other 49 states but yet not a lot of people know about it. Right, you know I think in addition to the supported decision making piece, one of the things that the law does it make sure that judges and attorneys consider all the alternatives there’s a laundry list of alternatives to guardianship and we want to make sure that the guardianship it’s put in place.

As it is the most restrictive is the most appropriate 17 has them look at all of them it also requires judges to take a look at whether or not an individual can make the decision about where they live previous to this law that wasn’t a requirement.we also require attorneys to get additional training to make sure that when they’re bringing these cases in the court system that they are that they know what they’re doing when they so there’s not issues created from that and making sure that that all those.

Things are considered whenever we’re looking at a guardianship so that they will make sure we’re protecting the rights of individuals but we’re also protecting them where they need help and assistance so that the guardianships are appropriate when we put them in place. As I indicated this was a diverse coalition of group stakeholders organizations and recently you were honored for your involvement in it David what got you into this mix you know it’s kind of interesting it its many times it’s a personal story and for us it was for me personally it was.

Family member and you know I know my family is very loving in and take one to take care of people but what about family members were that’s not the case in and what is a system look like as we begin to look at the system across the state we realize there were some shortcomings and so the Texas Judicial Council which is the policymaking body of the judicial branch and chaired by the Chief Justice Nathan Hack really said let’s take a look at this study after about 18 month period of studying it, these were the things that were in house.

Bill ‘ were ultimately what came from that study in working with groups like with Richard and the other coalition members really helped us to sort of bring some of these issues to light and I think made for a really good bill at the end of the day. Richard, I’ll give you the last word but David could jump in here too. What’s next because just because there’s a law in place doesn’t mean that people follow it or that everybody knows about it and it also I know there may be a phone number.

You want to five. There are several things that are going on first of all what we’re trying to do is educate judges and lawyers that practice in guardianship cases about the new reforms and then we’re also going out and doing extensive training of advocate family members and people with disabilities about supported decisionmaking and these alternatives and we’re working with the University of Texas law school and other law schools and pro bono lawyers to assist people in entering these supported decisionmaking agreements so if anyone would like information regarding supporting.

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