Recently I have had an interesting experience that I guess I should have expected, but didn't and have been a bit taken by surprise. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, there is a group home close by to my home that I like to visit once per week. The people who live in the home also attend my church. They are all adults who also experience moderate to severe intellectual disabilities.
Anyway, over the past couple of years, the lives of the group home residents have improved a bit, I would argue, as a result of their participation in church. I mean not only do they participate in activities on Sunday morning, but they also go with both church and community groups (Rotary and high school service clubs) to ball games (major and minor league baseball, high school basketball and football that we at the church facilitate), have attended concerts and an occasional play, a yearly shopping spree, as well as going to swim parties, movie nights at church, speaking in classes for students study special education, and just generally going out for a meal now and then. I as one of the main people facilitating these outings have gotten fingerprinted (see my entry on fingerprinting) and am an approved person to be with the folks.
Anyway, the group home has received increased scrutiny because of the small move toward regular lives that the people are experiencing. Social workers are concerned that the residents are interacting with people at church who are not finger printed. They are concerned that they are going to ball games with people who are not finger printed. They are concerned that when they come to address my classes, addresses that have proved to be truly life changing for the students whom they address (I will have to share about that in another entry sometime), that in actuality they are being "put on display" in some form of disparaging manner, I can only assume because the regulators must think that the residents have nothing to say to a class of university students.
I think that they are making these assumptions and raising these concerns as people who live in group homes are supposed to live there in isolation without the presence of people from the community who might actually be interested in developing a relationship, making friends with them because that, sadly, is the experience of most people living in such a situation. I really do understand the desire on the part of professionals to protect people from victimization. But I also recognize that no one can be totally protected, and that one just has to use his best judgement in looking at relationships with community members. Clearly, the community has been sensitized to the horrible behavior of what is comparatively a handful of religious people, however, one can be wise without being ridiculous. The fact that the vast majority of interactions between children and priests, for example, have been edifying and a blessing, does not diminish the fact that a small group of people are evil, but it does point to the fact that the vast majority of interactions are edifying and a blessing. It has also changed the manner in which all people interact in religious settings. For example, I myself when out in the community with friends with intellectual disabilities, will be careful to avoid being in a car alone with a disabled woman, even if just driving her home. I will always attempt to take women home first and then the men second. That is just common sense.
It is also interesting that professionals in disability related services will speak of their desire for things like community integration, and normalization , and friendship. However, it is interesting that when it actually occurs, they don't know what to do with it, and rather than allowing something natural to occur, something like friendship, they will attempt to regulate it, and in effect destroy it. In my own situation, I can already see the group home owner pulling back a bit, and who can blame her? Why should she risk getting into trouble with regulating agencies who will come the home looking for something wrong, and expressing a judgmental attitude at the positive things that might be happening? I am sure her thinking is, "If I just keep the people in the house and not give them access to the outside world, I would be much better off." No doubt that is the reason for the punishing attitude of the social workers and other regulating agencies as well. "Quit doing the community integration stuff. You need to be regulated by us if you are going to have your residents develop friendships. How dare you do something apart from our regulation." One can only assume that they would then be happy if the group home residents left daily for their adult day care setting where they are often treated as children, and then just come home and stay in the house. Case workers will decry the fact that group home owners will run to the store for a gallon of milk, take one of the residents and count that as one of the required monthly outings. But when people are engaged in real outings with real friends, I guess their "handlers" are considered trouble makers.
This is another barrier that churches must be prepared to face in attempting to do disability ministry. We have decades of uncaring attitudes of churches and protectionist attitudes by professionals. As we, the church, begin to reach out to those we have ignored, we must expect to find resistance on the part of the protectionists, because their structures for the way they do their services were designed without a group like the church taking an interest in group home clients to the point of wanting they to be participating members. So although they talk a good integration game, in reality they are a part of the problem, by their own design.
But the problem of the woman who runs the group home that I visit, is that she got into the group home business because she loves and wants to serve adults with intellectual disabilities. She wants the very best for them, in spite of the way in which the agencies would regulate or intimidate and try to scare her. Not only does she recognize that her residents are people who want to have a full life, she also recognizes that they are people who desire to express the spiritual side of their lives.
So, apparently integration of adults with intellectual disabilities into the community is a fight with the church to want to integrate them and a fight with the state to allow the integration to occur. Apparently the church is not the only one who claims to stand for one thing and do something else. The state can and apparently is hypocritical in its approach to community integration, saying they want it, but regulating and punishing and frustrating efforts at integration.