Alternative Decision-making and Supports for Vulnerable Adults Introduction: the Scope of the Problem

JurisdictionVermont,United States
CitationVol. 2011 No. 03
Publication year2011
Vermont Bar Journal
2011.

Spring 2011-#1. Alternative Decision-Making and Supports for Vulnerable Adults Introduction: The Scope of the Problem

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNAL
Volume 37, No. 1
Spring 2011

Alternative Decision-Making and Supports for Vulnerable Adults Introduction: The Scope of the Problem

by Sam Abel-Palmer, Esq., Guest Editor

We've all seen the well-publicized and unsettling headlines: the transient young man charged with sexual assault after he was hired to care for a disabled child; the beloved grandmother abducted and brutally murdered; the older couple scammed out of their life savings. Sadly, these headlines merely reflect a much broader problem. Abuse and exploitation of seniors and persons with disabilities is all too common, and the ability of individuals and support agencies to respond is often inadequate. Even where abuse is not at issue, those who rely on public benefits to survive often face daunting challenges to maintain sufficient resources to meet their basic needs.

In this special issue of the Vermont Bar Journal, we focus on some of the legal safeguards that are available to protect and support vulnerable adults: guardianship and its alternatives, financial tools to allow persons with disabilities to maintain public benefits, and some proposed statutory remedies to address gaps in the safety net. It is important, though, to understand why these legal issues matter. While the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults in Vermont is far more prevalent that many of us realize, the solutions are rarely simple. A guardianship may protect a person with a disability, but it also takes away many of that person's fundamental rights. Complex family dynamics may make a victim of abuse unwilling to take action against an abuser. The very tools that are meant to protect vulnerable adults, such as guardianship and power of attorney, can be misused by abusers to give an appearance of legal legitimacy to financial exploitation or medical neglect.

At a recent conference of the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one speaker noted that the current legal climate around adult protective services is about where child protective services was fifty years ago.(fn1) There are good intentions, but few resources. Congress only recently enacted the Elder Justice Act, as part of last year's health care reform legislation.(fn2) Unfortunately, the provisions of the Act that would provide more financial resources to states to beef up protections for vulnerable adults have not yet been funded, and, in the current fiscal climate, it seems unlikely that they will be in the near future. While all states have some mechanism for reporting and investigating abuse of vulnerable adults, there is little consistency in the scope and procedures for how...

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