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More Education Needed In MO About Guardianship?

January 26, 2010

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The question of guardianship may seem like a simple decision to be made, but being placed under guardianship can have devastating effects for a person with developmental disabilities. It's often seen as the only option when a person needs assistance or support in making decisions, but disability advocates say it can lead to a loss of freedoms.

Preliminary results from a project on guardianship in Missouri show that more work needs to be done to educate the public about the rights of people with developmental disabilities.

Five years ago, Cristal Chapman says someone filed a petition to place her under full guardianship when she began having some personal difficulties as a result of her disabilities. She says she was forced to live hours away from her husband in a locked-down facility and had to give up some of her civil and human rights, even though she had done nothing wrong.

"They took away my freedom of religion. There was one point where they wouldn't let me talk to, see or write my husband. It was pretty bad."

With assistance from Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, through the Guardianship project, Chapman successfully petitioned the court and restored her rights. Chapman is again living independently with her husband, and making her own decisions.

Dolores Sparks, program specialist with the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities, says many people with developmental disabilities and their families aren't aware of all the programs available to provide support for independent living in their own community. So a decision is made about guardianship, she says, without having all the information.

"That's a very big missing link here, that people just assume that if their loved one needs a guardian then you just go to court and you just get full guardianship."

Sparks says the three-year study project on guardianship wraps up later this year.

Supporters of guardianship say it's an option when a family member can't take care of a loved one with a disability.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO