Thursday, March 5, 2009

Someone To Watch Over Me

My daughter, Jessica, turned 18 years old this past December. Lots of people have been telling me that I need to go to court and have myself appointed her guardian. The school folks have told me that if Jessica decides she doesn't want to go to school anymore, she can make that decision for herself - unless of course I am appointed her guardian. The folks at our community service board tell me that Jessica would be able to make her own decisions regarding where she lives and what medical procedures she may want or not want - unless of course I am appointed her guardian. Friends and family tell me that I need to be appointed guardian for Jessica's sake. So, why do I feel so uncomfortable with the idea?

Jessica is significantly intellectually disabled. Her IQ is 52. She has aggressive outbursts and has injured both herself and others. She is living in a group home, and probably will be for the rest of her life. I'm hopeful she will be able to have a job, but our efforts to support that have so far not been successful.

So, it does seem like Jessica needs a guardian - someone to help her with decision making and to ensure she is not exploited or taken advantage of. Several weeks ago, I contacted the attorney that has helped me with both a due process case and a lawsuit againt Medicaid. I wasn't asking for his assistance with the guardianship because he works for our state's protection and advocacy organization and these kinds of cases are not ones they handle. Rather, I just wondered if he could recommend an attorney.

In his usual passionate,helpful manner however, he did ask one of the other attorneys in his office to contact me. I now have a meeting scheduled for the attorney, Jessica and me to discuss options. The most exciting thing about all this - the attorney told me that there are options other than guardianship. I have no idea what they are, but just the knowledge that there might be other options made me feel a little more comfortable.

Have any of you had to address issues like this? What did you ultimately do, and what were your feelings while going through the process? I'm having a tough time, and am not doing a good job explaining why. Maybe your comments will help me...


Michelle Morgan-Coole said...

I find a lot of people have trouble with the idea of guardianship and quite frankly, I can't really understand why.

Perhaps it's my legal background but I find as nice as the concept of "supported decision making" sounds, it looks highly unrealistic to me. The law is fairly black and white, a person is either found to have capacity or not. How does supported decision making work in that context?

I wonder how many parents realize that once their child is of legal age, unless they have guardianship, if there was a car accident, for example, or something else was to go terribly medically wrong, the hospital and doctors won't (technically, legally, can't) provide any information to them without the child's consent. And if the child is in a coma or for some other reason unable to communicate?

Or, for another example, if the time came that you ever had concerns regarding Jessica's care in the group home, what standing would you have to intervene? What if you suspected, even knew, at some point that Jessica's caregivers were trying to cover something up? What could you legally do to help her?

Work, plan and hope for the best. But always be prepared for the worst is kind of the way I look at it.

All that being said, I would love to know what other options your attorney is considering. I have heard those kind of comments from lawyers before and I have yet to see anything fly. Some will suggest Powers of Attorney or medical directives, for example, but those documents bring up huge issues of competency, as in the child has to be legally competent to sign one. And a person who is found legally conpetent to sign one will also be considered legally competent to revoke it, should the mood ever strike them. So, please do let us know the results of your meeting.

I can understand, at least up to a point, some of a parent's distate around the issue of guardianship. But we live in the real world and just as we protected them when they were little, for many of our kids, they just as much, if not more, still require our protection. As much as we might wish that wasn't so...

Ashley's Mom said...

Michelle, thank you so much for commenting. I was hoping you would :)

Perhaps my discomfort comes from lack of knowledge. And all the examples you gave are the things that have been weighing heavily on my mind.

I'm hoping my meeting with the attorney and Jessica will happen on March 17th. I'm going to share your comments with them that day if you don't mind.

And, I will definitely let you know what the attorney has to say. I have worked with the protection and advocacy group in my state on several different, and extremely important issues, and they haven't failed me yet. But, your comments have really gotten me thinking.

I will keep you posted, and again THANKS!!


Michelle Morgan-Coole said...

Please feel free to you use my thoughts and comments as you wish. Ironically, a close friend has a legal appointment on the same date, March 17, to discuss guardianship of her 19 year old son. I will be anxiously awaiting the results of both your appointments.