A group of parents of developmentally disabled adults are protesting the limitations of “Tara’s Law”, a bill that recently was passed by the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens.
Tara’s Law was originally designed in response to the death of Tara O’leary, a resident of a foster care facility. O’leary was a young woman who was abused and neglected, losing more than seventy pounds and weighing only forty-eight pounds when she died. Tara’s Law was created to protect individuals with developmental disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. However, the bill does not address the safety needs of disabled
residents in developmental centers, group homes, nursing homes, supervised apartments, or day treatment centers.
Thousands of cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of developmentally disabled adults are reported each year, but few are investigated. The parents have cited the limited scope of Tara's Law, as many of their children have died, or suffered lifetime physical and psychological injuries.
Senator Jennifer Beck recently posted an article that praised Tara’s Law for its intent to provide protections for those in Community Care Residences (foster care). However, the parents’ concern with the Beck article is that it makes no mention of the fact that it excludes more than 95 per cent of all people with developmental disabilities in
In addition, the article makes no mention of the fact that there is a group of parents who are concerned because their son or daughter will not be protected by Tara's Law. Furthermore, it makes no mention of the fact that an amendment was proposed that would expand the protection to all residential settings, but was shot down.
However, it serves as great publicity for the bill sponsor.
According to Thomas Komninos, a Bergen County financial analyst whose 24 year old son died from neglect while in residential care:
“Beck's article omits the fact that this legislation provides protection for less than 5% of the developmentally disabled population living in residential facilities in New Jersey. What about the other 95%?”
The Health Committee members suggested to this writer and the parents that a separate bill be initiated that will provide protections for the 95% who are not covered by the current bill. However, it has been estimated that separate legislation may take as much as five years for an initial draft to evolve to the point where it makes its way to the Governor’s desk for signature. During that time, it is estimated that there will be at least thirty-five thousand new cases of abuse and at least one-thousand additional deaths.
According Aileen Rivera of Wayne, whose son was nearly beaten to death by staff in a New Jersey developmental center:
“I am desperately concerned with Sen. Beck's legislation on Tara's Law that only covers the developmental disabled in "COMMUNITY CARE SERVICES a/k/a FOSTER HOMES", which is only 5% of the developmental population. Why can't the remaining 95%, who suffer in silence, be protected, as well?”
The parents, in general, support the concept of the bill, and would like to see it expanded to include all residential facilities. Tara’s Law, in its limited form, does provide protection for a least a small portion of people with developmental disabilities who are in some form of residential care. Karen Cameron from Spring Lake is also the parent of a young adult son who was severely beaten in a residential facilities. As she has noted:
“I applaud Tara's Law and the work of Senator Beck, but this law only scratches the surface. We can't sit by, silently, while those in group homes, supervised apartments, developmental centers and day training centers remain unprotected”.
Some legislators have voiced their concern for the limited population that would be protected by Tara’s Law. Senator Ronald Rice (D,-Essex), who serves as a member of the Senate Health Committee, suggested that there is no reason why the Committee could not add an amendment that would expand the protections to people with special needs in all residential settings. Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D. Bergen/Passaic) also concurs with the
view that the proposed amendment is needed and should be included in the bill, without delay.
Nevertheless, as the discussions and reported concerns continue, people with developmental disabilities who live in residential facilities continue to die or suffer lifetime physical and psychological injuries, without the same civil and human rights that the non-disabled population enjoys and expects.