NEW REPORT ON ADULT GUARDIANSHIP IN ILLINOIS DETAILS NEED FOR REFORM
Legislation Proposed to Improve System
CHICAGO (Oct. 24, 2000) - On March 23, the Illinois Guardianship Reform Project, an initiative of Equip for Equality, Inc., will release a detailed report documenting the findings and recommendations of its Task Force for improving the adult guardianship system. Included in the report are plans for implementation of key reforms, including new legislation currently being introduced with bipartisan support. Sen. Kathleen Parker (R-29) is the lead sponsor of the guardianship reform bill in the Illinois Senate with co-sponsors Sen. Lisa Madigan (D-17) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-13). Supporting the legislation in the House are Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-37), Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25), and Rep. Patricia Reid Lindner (R-65).
"Adult guardianship is everyone's issue," says Mark Heyman, Chairperson of the Project's Task Force and a clinical professor at the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, University of Chicago. "By the year 2035, 25 percent of the population in this country will be elderly with the potential for physical or mental impairments and the number of non-elderly individuals will continue to increase due to improved survival rates of infants born with disabilities and greater life expectancy. Some of us, or our loved ones will need a substitute decision-maker in various aspects of our daily lives."
These trends make it essential that Illinois establish an effective guardianship system that strikes an appropriate balance between an individual's right to self-determination and the court's responsibility to provide protection from harm. In his keynote remarks at the Project's inauguration in 1999, former Illinois Chief Justice Charles E. Freeman said, "The issues surrounding guardianship in Illinois and around the country, require at timely and effective response. The Guardianship Reform Project of Equip for Equality is a model for other law reform efforts in Illinois and nationwide."
On the same occasion, Erica Wood, representing the American Bar Association's Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly, remarked, "What's happening in Illinois is something unique, something we at the ABA and other states will be wathcing. Here, finally, is a rational process for reform."
The 150-page Illinois Guardianship Project final report focuses on areas of concern that were revealed in nationwide research and which were expressed by the elderly and people with disabilities, family members, service providers and the general public in the context of six statewide focus groups and three public hearings. The complete report will be available at http://www.equipforequality.org.
"Although Illinois has many skilled and dedicated guardians, as well as diligent and resourceful judges, the Project's report identifies serious problems in the guardianship system of abuse, neglect and mismanagement of some individuals under court-appointed guardians that must addressed," said Morris A. Fred, manager of the Project and Senior Policy Analyst for Equip for Equality.
Five major areas are identified for reform by the Project's report: 1) Limited guardianships are rarely used despite the fact that they encouraged the existing statute; 1) Training is not routinely provided for guardians; 3) The performance of guardians is poorly monitored; 4) There is an inadequate number of people who are willing to serve as guardians and many public guardians are overburdened, and 5) The public is uninformed about guadianship and its alternatives.
During the current session of the Illinois legislature, Equip for Equality is seeking revision of the guardianship section of the Probate Act (755 ILCS 5/11a) based on the Task Force's key recommendations. These amendments include: changing the definition on which guardianships are based to focus on an individual's decisional capacity, rather than labels; clarifying the role of the "guadian ad litem" by changing the term to "guardianship investigator", expanding the guardianship investigator's role to ensure that the court has sufficient information to make decisions about an individual's need for a guardian; requiring that, if the services of a guardianship investigator are not used, both the prospective guardian and ward appear in court at the time of the hearing; and ensuring that an individual retains self-determination to the extent possible by encouraging the appointment of limited rather that plenary (full) guardians.
In the future, Equip for Equality will seek to implement additional Task Force recommendations to: improve the medical and psychological assessment process on which guardianship decisions are based; develop an effective monitoring system to guarantee the adequate oversight of guardianships once they are ordered; support measures to provide a sufficient number of guardians to meet the growing need in Illinois; and they offer relevant training and support to guardians and professionals to create effective and efficient guardianship system.
To accomplish the goals of the Illinois Guardianship Reform Project, Equip for Equality, a nonprofit organization designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for people with physical and mental disabilities, assembled a multidisciplinary Task Force of 17 experts in law, medicine, gerontology and disability to develop a model reform plan. A Senior Review Board composed of eight State legislators and seven probate judges was chosen to provide perspective and advice on the feasibility of Task Force recommendations.
Initial funding for the Project came from The Chicago Community Trust, the Polk Bros. Foundation, The Field Foundation of Illinois, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A recent grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities is enabling Equip for Equality to undertake a Public Awareness and Coalition-Building Campaign for implementing the Project's key recommendations.
For further information, contact Guardianship Reform Project Manager, Morris Fred or Legislative Policy Manager, Murray Manus at (312) 341-0022, (800) 537-2632 or TTY (800) 610-2779.