“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Getting into "trouble"?

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.



Anonymous said...

I think it is really sad that it is so difficult to have community integration. I do understand the protectiveness of the social workers and caregivers when sending of the people they care for every day. A mother would also be concerned for her child, not letting a son or daughter spend the night at a friend’s house until she knew the friend’s parents better and could trust them. However, people with disability are treated like they are children the majority of the time and they are not children. It is good for them to be able to interact with others and be treated as an adult for once. It is sad that the Church has been so inactive that they cannot be trusted. Christians proclaim the love of God and should be willing to share it with anyone they meet, whether they have a disability or not. It is contrary to the word of God that Christians should be the ones thought of as predators, we should be the ones to love and protect those with disabilities.

I had the opportunity to volunteer for an AYSO soccer team for children with disabilities when I was in sixth grade. We did not have any problems and did not need to be fingerprinted, but someone from the group home was always with us. The kids would be dropped off and picked up by the leaders of the group home. It was so amazing watching these kids playing soccer that I cannot understand why the social workers would get in the way of such programs. You could see their faces light up. I was able to push a wheel chair for a boy, who could not speak, but I would twirl him around and he would laugh. This always brought me such great joy. A boy who cannot communicate with the world was able to laugh and was having fun. I cannot see how members of the church could let things get so bad that we cannot even help boys and girls like this anymore.
Holly Oliver

Anonymous said...

I thought that this post was very interesting. I am so confused by the government sometimes, they always seem to be working against themselves. Yet I too understand, to a degree, why they get protective.
I can see why the governtment would want to keep a wary eye out and make sure that people with disablities are not being taken advantage of. People are always there to take advantage of someone who may be weaker than them.
You would think that they would want for people who are living in group homes to get out and be able to live as normal of a life as is possible, yet it seems that every time soemthing good is done it is squashed becasue of the few people who are not doing what they should.
I hope that your group home is able to work out what is going on with the social workers, you are doing such a wonderful job at touching peoples lives.

Anonymous said...

It is not surprising to see the state as hypocritical. I have seen it before. I recently encountered a situation with government regulations in the area of senior citizens. I was caring for an elderly lady who was forced from her apartment. A developer had recently purchased her building and was turning it into low income housing. In order for them to follow the state regulations, they had to "relocate" anyone who did not fall into the state guidelines for "low income housing." Because my friend had worked hard all her life and invested wisely so she did not have to depend on the government in her retirement years, she was forced to move from her home of 12 years and at age 90 move into a new apartment, leaving behind all her friends in the apartment complex and her support system.

I moved her into a new apartment on Veteran's Day (Happy Veteran's day, she was a WWII veteran). Less than 2 weeks later, she suffered a massive stroke, and a week later, she died.

I know about the hypocrisy in the state. I am sure some well meaning government worker thought they were doing something to help the elderly, just as I am sure these professionals think they are looking out for the best interests of the intellectually disabled.

However, what I can not understand is the hypocrisy of the church. Perhaps as more of us approach our churches and bring up the issue of the disabled, more churches will get involved with the people in group homes. Then rather than it being unusual, it will become the norm for churches to be involved in the lives of adults with intellectual disabilities. Perhaps then the professionals won't think of it as so unusual and won't be so wary.

Anonymous said...

working in the group home business i do understand the regulations. Its sad that we have to have so many regulations and restrictions but it is for the safety of the clients. its important that the people who are taking the clients out on events and outings know the condition of the people and what to do if something happens. As far as the fingerprinting goes, i think that this is very important for the safety of the people. The fingerprinting is to make sure that they don't have a background that would be harmful to them. But all these regulations can be compromised. In the facility that i work in, the people are aloud to go where ever they want to go as long as its a safe enviroment and a staff member is present. There are so many different things that could happen when just going out to dinner or even going to church. Everyone that goes to church is not a saint so you never know how cruel people are or what there motives are. I do think its sad that they are not free to do whatever they want, but working in this field i totally understand the regulations. Although my location follows the guidlines out clients are never bored. They attend church regularly, they go to the mall a often as they like. They have visits from friends and have that have been approved, and what ever activities they want to get involved in they are welcome to do so. I think it all depends on the facility and how much the caregivers care.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I understand how you say you should have anticipated these kinds of events, but you get blindsided just for trying to do some good for six beautiful people.

Does CCLD really think that people with disabilities shouldn't go anywhere where a person in the system might come into contact with a person who hasn't been screened by fingerprinting?

You are exactly right, the system advocates normalized community relationships, but not at the cost of treating people with intellectual disabilities like they were normal.

This is most discouraging, particularly since we are trying to start up a ministry similar to yours, our first efforts at establishing relationships with group homes. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help, Jeff.

I think a major problem in our society today is that there just isn't anything very common about common sense.

Mark and Kris

Anonymous said...

These basic rights for the mentally retarded have been in place in the U.S. since 1973, why is it that San Bernardino County develops its own regulations?
" Mentally retarded citizens are entitled to enjoy and to exercise the same rights as are available to nonretarded citizens, to the limits of their ability to do so. As handicapped citizens, they are also entitled to specific extensions of, and additions to, these basic rights, in order to allow their free exercise and enjoyment. When an individual retarded citizen is unable to enjoy and exercise his or her rights, it is the obligation of the society to intervene so as to safeguard these rights, and to act humanely and conscientiously in that person's behalf.

Basic Rights

The Basic rights that a retarded person shares with his or her nonretarded peers include, but are not limited to, those implied in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and those specified in detail in the various documents that provide the basis for governing democratic nations. Specific rights of mentally retarded persons include, but are not limited to:

The right to freedom of choice within the individual's capacity to make decisions and within the limitations imposed on all persons.

The right to live in the least restrictive individually appropriate environment.

Nonretarded adults have considerable latitude to control their own lives, particularly in terms of choosing place of employment and place of residence. Insofar as he or she is able to make these choices, a retarded adult should have the same freedom of choice. A classification of mental retardation is not, of itself, sufficient cause to restrict an individual's freedom of movement."

MJH said...

It is sad that CCLD and other government "service" institutions take an "either/or" attitude toward people with disabilities or anyone who has life challenges. It seems that social welfare agencies believe that if they are offering assistance (be it housing, employment, ILS, etc) than they have a perfectly legitimate right to maintain complete control over a persons ability to determine their own social /spiritual /community interactions.
The flip side is that these same social welfare agencies are apt to remove someone completely from assistance if that person is adamant about determining their own goals and future.
As someone who spent 10 years in CCLD group homes (as a social worker and administrator) I have to take issue with the comments of the group home administrator. Under the "safety" arguement, a group home resident cannot even get a part-time job at Jack-in-the-Box unless every customer gets cleared before ordering ther Jumbo Jack. This is an extreme example, I know, but the opportunity for growth often coexists in the midst of risk. If we do not allow our children, our friends, or people with disabilities to take risks how can we argue that we are treating them as people with the capacity to grow and develop?
There is a balance to be had that allows support and assistance while encouraing freeedom and self-determination. It is unfortunate that social welfare agencies are so fear-based in their policies as a result of an overly lititgious society.

Jeff McNair said...

In a situation that is "the same only different" a couple of dear friends of mine are attempting to adopt a child with disabilities. They have been put through the ringer in their efforts to be approved. Check out this link to hear of the latest in their travails with the state.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that the 99 and one is one of the greatest examples of how God treats everyone the same way regardless of their disabilities and who He worries for every single one. I strongly believe that as good Christians, we must treat disabled people with a lot of respect because we all are the children of God. Furthermore; If a disabled person is lost in the in the secular world, it is our obligation to bring her/him into God’s world. I truly believe that there is no better place for disabled people than church because they are in direct contact with God’s word.