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Letter to the editor: Group homes becoming more institutionalized

To the editor:

In the early 18th Century, Itard introduced the start of a scientific study for people with intellectual disabilities. One of Itard's students, Sequin, came to the United States halfway through the 19th century. Sequin was highly influential of residential centers to help educate people with intellectual disabilities and cure them so they can return to society. However, once they realized intellectual disabilities could not be cured they changed the setting from educational to custodial. Institutions were not created to abuse people but the lack of other options, funding, and trained staff created the abuse and neglect.

In 1999, there was a federal court case known as Olmstead v. L.C., which started with two women who were voluntary admitted in a psychiatric hospital in Georgia. Once mental health professionals deemed they were fit to be in a community based program they were not released for several years. The women filed a lawsuit and the United States Supreme Court determined it as discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act. Minnesota's response to prevent similar situations was to create a moratorium on four person group homes and more options to get people into their own homes. According to Serres, this was the 'second wave' of deinstitutionalizing people. Although it is huge for getting people into the community it actually creates a more institutionalized setting for people who require 24-hour staffing.

In result of the moratorium, families and people with intellectual disabilities may have to compromise important values to best meet their needs because of the restriction on openings. For example, individuals may not live close to their families and familiar neighborhoods and become more isolated due to where openings are located or wanting to find a home with a trusted provider. Also, they might choose to compromise with an agency they do not trust to continue to live close and increase opportunities for loved ones to participate in their life. In 2015, there were about 19,000 people who have an intellectual disability living in a corporate foster home. A sample of 5,100 of them were analyzed according to location throughout the state. About 57.5 percent live over 50 miles away from their home address. The moratorium does not only restrict the amount of places for an individual to live but also the choices they have and quality of life. For instance, when a family finds a quality staff they may not just transition their child into a group home with familiar staff. One reason is that current agencies that provide supports in family homes may not own a license for a corporate foster bed. Therefore, families have to choose a new provider to look for a home and hope that staff would be willing or able to follow their child. The moratorium has provided remarkable opportunities for individuals being less segregated. However, it seems to go against its main purpose by creating a more isolating option for individuals who are the most vulnerable and dependent on staff.

Tara Stonesifer

Cottage Grove

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