The burning issue regarding the potential closing of developmental centers for people with developmental disabilities has quieted down but not gone away. The controversy of whether the larger institutions should be closed, and the clients returned to their parents or other family members or placed in group homes has yet to be resolved. Governor Christie has proposed closing some of these facilities, with the Vineland Developmental Center receiving the most publicity.

The Governor proposes closing facilities such as Vineland, which he compares to a “pot of money”. He proposes using the “pot of money” for creating community grants, with some of the grants going to the families of the developmentally disabled clients to be used for care in the home. Other dollars would potentially be used by the group homes.

Interestingly, New Jersey is faced with an overwhelming waiting list of clients with developmental disabilities who need housing. Most of the parents have died or are elderly and can no longer care for their adult children with special needs. Yet, the Governor suggests keeping the clients at home where family care no longer exists. It is unfortunate that the current administration views the developmental centers as no more than a “pot  of money”.

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The waiting list for housing among these disabled individuals continues to grow every day as new applications for housing are submitted. In addition, the Administration has erroneously suggested that the famous “Olmstead” decision mandates closing the facilities. 

Among the most pressing issues to be addressed for a special needs student who is approaching young adulthood is the problem of an appropriate living arrangement. Although mandates specify timelines and types of services, in many cases, neither the Congress nor the federal courts truly consider costs to state or local governments when passing or interpreting mandates. Nevertheless, the courts should consider a continuum of settings (moving from the most restrictive to the least restrictive) when determining the most appropriate placement for an individual with a mental disability. Within the schools, as mandated by State and federal law, children must be educated within the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The courts have determined that adults with disabilities who require treatment, must receive services in the Least Restrictive Alternative (LRA) to a residential placement. The settings might best be interpreted when listed along a continuum:

Most Restrictive

Institutional Setting (Hospital, Prison, etc.)

Fully Supervised Community Setting

Group Home

Supervised Semi-Independent Living

Supervised Apartment

Monitored Semi-Independent Setting

Monitored Apartment (Supervision periodic, but not daily)

Independent Living

Periodic Monitoring (Weekly, Monthly)

Least Restrictive

The most restrictive setting would be reserved for the clients with the most severe disabilities. The settings would become less restrictive for individuals whose disabilities are less severe.

The Olmstead decision was not an integration mandate, but a Supreme Court ruling that would provide clients with an option under certain conditions. Olmstead v. L.C and E.W granted the right of residents of large institutions the right to transfer to the community if they if they voluntary requested the transfer and if it could be determined that they could receive appropriate services in the community. The original argument was filed by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society in 1995, with the United State Supreme Court making a final ruling in 1999:

 

“Supreme Court Upholds ADA 'Integration Mandate' in Olmstead decision”

“Washington, DC, June 22, 1999 -- In rejecting the state of Georgia's appeal to enforce institutionalization of individuals with disabilities, the Supreme Court today affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to live in their community in its 6-3 ruling against the state of Georgia in the case Olmstead v. L.C and E.W.

Under Title II of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, delivering the opinion of the court, "states are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State¹s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities."

The current Administration has a simplistic view of issue of housing and treatment for people with developmental disabilities. The Governor held one of his famous town hall meetings in Vineland, New Jersey, with the parents of some of the Vineland Developmental Center residents attending. At the Town Hall meeting he repeated his plan to transfer the “pot of money” from the residential treatment facilities to other settings. Unfortunately, the variable that the Governor interprets to be a “pot of money” consists of real human beings who are fighting for an appropriate place to live with appropriate treatment and a reasonable quality of life.