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Adult guardianship programs continue to operate with little funding

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Courts around Indiana have started their own guardianship programs based on the Lake County model program in Allen, Elkhart, Lawrence, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe, and Vanderburgh counties.

And while state funding has since dried up for the Indiana Adult Guardianship Services Project that started in 2008, the only program that has been put on hold is the one in Tippecanoe County, which ended in June because of lack of funds.

However that program, said Becky Pryor, project coordinator of the statewide program, could resume if there was funding again.
 

Becky Pryor Pryor

While some counties already have existing guardianship programs for adults, the main differences between the existing programs and the new programs are there would be volunteers acting as guardians – some of the existing programs had staff members acting as guardians; stakeholders would work together instead of only focusing on age or particular disabilities; and most communities have been able to raise funds for their programs in addition to initial state funding.

For instance, Elkhart County’s program is a consortium of existing providers who are recruiting their first volunteer class.

Cary Kelsey, assistant to the president of ADEC Inc. of Elkhart County, an organization to assist people with developmental disabilities, said she could see the benefit to adding trained volunteer guardians to expand what her organization has been doing for many years with paid staff.

Kelsey has been working with, among others, Pam Huffer, director of advocacy for REAL Services based in South Bend. Huffer said her organization had been using volunteers in other counties, but she looked forward to expanding the organization’s outreach with volunteer guardians in Elkhart County.

In Vanderburgh County, a new non-profit organization was created from stakeholder meetings in that community. Guardianship Services of Southwestern Indiana Inc. was incorporated in 2009 and received 501c3 status in June.

Arin Norris, executive director, said the first training was completed in July using the model from another pilot program, Lawrence County Adult Guardianship Services.

Like many of the other trainings, local professionals presented various subjects to the volunteers.

“Topics included mental health issues, dealing with difficult people, an Alzheimer’s role playing activity, a panel of hospice nurses, an introduction to Bridges Out of Poverty, and communication training,” Norris said via e-mail.

That organization has also received support from Vanderburgh Superior Judge Brett J. Niemeier, who, Norris said, has offered the support of his court, including “in-kind donations, such as office space, use of a computer and a telephone line. Judge Niemeier wants to ensure that all incapacitated adults in Vanderburgh County have a willing and suitable guardian.”

Allen Superior Judge David Avery has also been supportive of the project in his respective county.

That county’s program is run by the Volunteer Lawyers Program of Northeast Indiana Inc., the District 3 pro bono organization. While it is unclear how Indiana on Lawyer Trust Accounts funding will affect pro bono districts around the state for 2011, including this program, and even though there is no guarantee of state funding like there was in the beginning, Judge Avery is optimistic that it will continue in some fashion thanks to the partnerships that have formed.

In Allen County, he said, the council includes the adult protective services division of the prosecutor’s office, nursing home representatives, hospital representatives, and others who could help address what the local needs are and the most effective way to address them. This is typical of the other counties.

Michele M. Wagner, director of Guardianship Services at the Volunteer Lawyer Program, said she was unaware of the need until the program started accepting referrals in 2008.

“The waiting list was astronomical,” she said. “We stopped counting after we reached around the 80s.”

She said VLP has helped with a total of 51 guardianships. She added 21 cases still have representation, but without funding they can’t take any more at this time.

“The need is just overwhelming,” she said. “About 80 percent is from the developmentally disabled population, and a lot of those cases have dual diagnoses that include mental illness. The majority used to be in state centers for people with developmental disabilities who are now living in the community. … It’s often hard to find the best situations for them. We tried a little bit of everything with the 51 cases we had.”

The pilot program in St. Joseph County, said Dan Harshman, co-executive director of the Guardianship Consortium of St. Joseph County, has “identified two major areas of need – people being discharged from local hospitals and people with mental illness. Our first effort will be to assist the hospitals with the need they have when people don’t have families to help determine if they should have a procedure or if they should leave the hospital.”

He added the organization is also working to create educational materials for anyone who is willing to be a guardian. Other counties are also working on educational material for the community, including guardians who are family members.

Harshman also noted that his county’s program has been working with the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, including the other co-executive director of the St. Joseph County program, Michael Jenuwine, a lawyer and a clinical psychologist, who has been a key player in the county’s project.

Jenuwine started a study about adult guardianships after Pryor had asked him. He said all guardianships receive the same code from the courts, so paguardian maprt of his work was to look over 1,000 cases from 15 different counties that were filed from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008.

Of the cases he looked at, he said the youngest person was 17, the oldest was 102. Most of the cases involved people older than 65, with dementia being the most common issue. He added that most of the people in the cases were either at the younger end, between 18 to 20 years old, or around the mid-60s.

While looking at the cases, he also found the ward was often not present in court, and there was often no diagnosis from a physician. Typically a family member would describe the ward’s issues or there would be a physician’s note that the person needed a guardian but no further explanation.

Overall, he said, “A whole lot of things could be better.”

His students have also called clerks offices in every court around the state that would possibly handle guardianships for adults to survey them about their observations.

“My hope is this leads to some reform to tighten the laws we have, get resources to the courts to make sure they can have better accounting systems for adult guardianships,” he said.

Pryor added that many hope Jenuwine’s research, as well as input from stakeholders around the state who continue to meet, will influence the state regarding future funding for these kinds of programs.

In addition to the pilot programs, Wayne and Montgomery counties have expressed an interest in creating a local program to Pryor. In Marion County, a pilot program is in the works for Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis.

She and others said lawyers could give pro bono hours or financial support if they want to help. She suggested they contact their local organizations or her directly at iagsproject@yahoo.com.•
 

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  1. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  2. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  3. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  4. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  5. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

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