Legislative Budget Board
Texas Judicial Council – Office of Court Administration
August 27, 2014
My name is Belinda Carlton and I am a Public Policy Specialist with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). TCDD is established by federal law and is governed by a 27 member board, appointed by the Governor, 60% of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. The Council’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.
Today I am speaking on behalf of TCDD and the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Group (GRSDM) workgroup about Exceptional Items 3 and 7 in the Office of Court Administration Legislative Appropriations Request.
The GRSDM came together in June 2013 to look at the need for policy reforms and less restrictive alternatives in guardianship. GRSDM includes individuals and groups likely to intersect with guardianship and representatives of the legal profession, family members and advocacy organizations that cross age and disability. Some GRSDM participants, including me, also contribute to the Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders, a project of the Texas Supreme Court administered by the Office of Court Administration. Both groups are working to improve guardianship and advance alternatives, such as supported decision-making.
While many people appointed as guardians serve compassionately, often without any compensation, some guardians exploit and abuse those they are charged with protecting. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), incidents of mistreatment and neglect are increasing. They cite a primary cause is the court’s failure to oversee guardians once they are appointed, allowing the abuse of vulnerable seniors and their assets to continue.1
The question of who is overseeing the guardian goes back to ancient times but its contemporary meaning remains clear: those with responsibilities for others must themselves be responsible. Many Texas courts are not guarding people under guardianship, in part because Texas has a decentralized court system in which guardianship cases are handled in three different types of courts by judges who may or may not be lawyers and in part by the surge in guardianship cases associated with the rapid increase of aging Texans.
Exceptional Items 3 and 7 in the OCA legislative appropriation request are directed toward assisting our courts with guardianship cases. Exceptional Item 3 will establish a cloud based uniform case management system. Texas does not have a centralized reporting system for guardianship and we even have some rural courts without computers. If funded, this data system could help the state promote alternatives to guardianship. Expanded use of alternatives to guardianship is important for a few reasons. We do not have enough people to serve as guardians and, as Texans, the preservation of individual liberties and civil rights are values we share. Data could help us know if guardianship is legal, fraudulent, driven by the financial incentive, or if a guardianship is for the purpose of placing a person in an institutional setting, at a much greater cost for our state.
Our purpose is to preserve and protect the civil rights of persons under guardianship, including the right to live in their own home. Item 7 will fund five Guardianship Compliance Specialists to review applications for guardianship and annual reports by guardians and take proper steps when there are deficiencies or potential abuse and neglect. Above this, the specialists need to be trained to investigate whether the guardianship is necessary and if alternatives to guardianship would avoid the need for appointment of a guardian or enable a person under guardianship to move to a limited guardianship or to have the guardianship lifted and their individual liberty and civil rights restored.
We appreciate the commitment and creativity of the Office of Court Administration to enhance the capacity of our courts. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on the Office of Court Administration Legislative Appropriations Request.
Public Policy Specialist
- Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors. United States Government Accountability Office. Retrieved August 19, 2014 from Examples of abuses in Texas were included in the GAO report. ↩