Guardianship vs. Supported Decision Making

Newport News Circuit Court (7th Judicial Circuit of Virginia) Judge David F. Pugh ruled that Jenny Hatch, a young woman with Down syndrome, needed a guardian to help her make decisions but also had taken into account Jenny’s preferences. He ruled against Jenny’s mother and stepfather in their request for full and permanent guardianship and awarded temporary, partial guardianship to the people she had chosen. “It is the intent of the Court that the Guardians shall assist Respondent in making and implementing decisions [using what] we have heard termed ‘supported decision making,’” Ross v Hatch, 113 LRP 31633 (Va. Cir. Ct. 08/12/13).

Jenny had been living with family friends until she had a bicycle accident. Upon discharge from the hospital, her employers, Jim Talbert and Kelly Morris, moved her into their home to recover. A short time later Jenny moved into a group home, believing that was the only way to qualify for Medicaid waiver services. Upon receipt of the waiver services, she returned to the home of her employers. At that point, her biological mother and stepfather filed for guardianship asking for the right to decide, among other things, where she lived, whom she saw and what medical treatment she received. Temporary guardianship was granted to her mother and stepfather who decided she should return to the group home. Over the following year, Jenny lived in a series of group homes running away frequently.

At the August 2013, guardianship hearing, several experts testified about the right of individuals with disabilities to choose how, where, and with whom to live. Professor Robert Dinerstein, director of the Disability Rights Law Clinic at American University, who gave a deposition in the case on Jenny’s behalf, explained that the Judge will review Jenny’s case in one year to consider Jenny’s ability to live a “life of support as opposed to a life of substitution.”

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