AUBURNDALE, Wisconsin (WSAW) – In July 2020, Jordan Anderson and his twin marked a milestone; the two turned 18 and came of age. It’s a great day for everyone, but especially for children with disabilities and their families. The two were born 12 weeks prematurely and have cerebral palsy.
The Auburndale family scheduled a court hearing this fall so that Anderson’s parents could have legal guardianship over them to protect them and assist them into adulthood. In addition to planning the Abitur and preparing for their future, securing guardianship for many families with disabled children is an expected next step.
Shortly before the hearing, Anderson attended a virtual conference empowering people with disabilities called the Wisconsin Self-Determination Conference. He attended a meeting chaired by George Zaske, an attorney and member of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.
“This was the first time I’d heard of supportive decision-making,” said Anderson. “When I heard George say you might lose your voting rights, it really got me going.”
The sports, journalism, politics and hunting enthusiast also learned guardianship and could deprive him of his hunting and decision-making rights.
“These are pretty important decisions,” Zaske told NewsChannel 7. “A guardianship order can transfer all rights to a guardian and this guardianship order can last for decades.”
After hearing the concerns and frustrations of individuals and families navigating the guardianship system, the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities worked with lawmakers to offer a less restrictive alternative. In 2018, Wisconsin became one of the first five states in the country to pass the assistive decision-making law.
It is a legal document that enables a person with a disability or an aging person to get support from people they trust in areas where they need help, such as financial or medical decisions, but the the final decision on what to do under these circumstances remains with that individual. It is a document that does not require the time or cost of going to court and is recognized by the State of Wisconsin.
“Without a law that is recognized as much as guardianship is recognized, families run the risk of saying ‘Yes, my family member wants supportive decisions’ but then going into a formal system like a school or hospital and” that is not recognized, ”said WBPDD Executive Director Beth Swedeen.
Anderson learned all about the option the day before his guardianship hearing. The next morning when he was getting ready for school, he spoke to his parents, shared his concerns and told him about supported decisions.
Anderson’s parents, like many other people looking for ways to protect and support their loved ones with disabilities, have been told by attorneys that they may or may not have guardianship over their son. When they shared supportive decision-making, their lawyers said they needed to do more research.
Since the law was introduced, requests for guardianship have decreased each year from 5,147 in 2017 to 4,146 in 2020, even judges are unaware of the various options.
“Until a supportive decision was reached, it (guardianship) was really the only option. It was kind of black and white and people overprotected loved ones and checked many options that are on the guardianship petition, ”said Zaske, a parent of a disabled child.
As a parent, he realized that you want to do whatever you can to protect your child, because the adult world doesn’t support them as much as they do when they were at school. He found that adults with disabilities, like all adults who make their own decisions, can make mistakes. As long as they do not have life-threatening consequences for these decisions, there are other alternatives to guide and protect them.
“Guardianship can be appropriate when someone does not recognize the danger. (When) They don’t have a keen sense of when they are being exploited. But research has shown that if you practice this decision-making in a young person, even with a cognitive disability, they actually make those decisions better and get a better sense of who they are and their sense of autonomy, ”explained Zaske.
Sweden said families often ask if they should go through the guardianship process first and then move on to less restrictive options later, but she urged that this is not recommended. She said that guardianship is the most restrictive way of protecting a loved one with disabilities, it costs a lot of time and money, and it can be difficult to remove or reduce restrictions on guardianship once it is implemented. Even if the family and the individual requested the abolition of guardianship, they stated that the person has already been deemed legally incompetent and that it is up to a judge to change that designation.
“So if you can start with the flexible tools and if they don’t work or are not complete enough, then come up with something more restrictive, that will always be the easier way and the way that keeps people’s rights intact.” She said .
“I have the best parents in the world listening to me,” smiled Anderson. He and his family decided to grant powers of attorney to make medical and financial decisions, maintaining Anderson’s rights but giving him less restrictive support when he needed them.
To learn more about supportive decision making, click here. You can also sign up for the free Wisconsin Self-Determination Conference, which will take place virtually October 18-21, and will provide detailed explanations of the opportunities for people with disabilities who need assistance. Anderson will also speak at this conference.
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