Take Action Even When You Cannot Believe Your Eyes

This week, on 3-19-13, the story broke of yet another adult with developmental disabilities abused in the home chosen by his parents. The group home is run by a seemingly well-established agency with an excellent and long reputation for providing residential and other services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Studio City (CBSLA.com)

After reading the article, I felt that the parents had not been prepared to effectively and quickly respond to signs of abuse. Several things popped out at me:

1. The mother’s complete trust in the agency
2. The fact that when suspecting abuse, she turned to the agency
3. Even suspecting abuse, she left her son with the agency with hidden cameras “to be sure.”
4. After verifying abuse, she turned to the agency
5. The agency’s first response was to destroy the evidence.

These factors inspired me to design a “quick-look Tip Sheet” for parents or other family members who have the responsibility for their loved ones who live or work in programs supported by agencies with a clear responsibility to provide the best of care.

I hope that this Tip Sheet can get into the hands of all family (or other) care providers, to help them break the bubble of invulnerability to abuse, and help them quickly report suspected abuse, leaving the confrontation of perpetrators of abuse (or their “agents”) to the proper authorities. It is a shame in this case that those responsible first thought to destroy the evidence rather than protect the vulnerable adult.

Please find below a summary of the article and the Tip Sheet. Please let me know your thoughts about the Tip Sheet, and also disseminate it to all those who may benefit from it.

According to the article, the parents were unable to continue to provide care for their 31-year old son themselves, due to their own difficulties as they are aging. Their son has autism, is non-verbal, and has an intellectual disability. They put their trust with the agency.

Last year, Coleman said Jay Nolan Community Services helped find Cameron a home in Northridge and provided him with 24-hour in-home care. However, the mother “grew concerned about her son’s living situation when she started to notice bruises on his body.” Thereupon, she notified management, who denied knowledge of how the bruises may have appeared. The bruises continued to appear, get worse, then her son “showed me signs that he’s afraid of the staff.”

With no help from the staff, she installed cameras in his home, and upon viewing the results discovered severe abuse by staff. She said, “I could not believe one human being, even the bad person, would attack a disabled person,” said Coleman. However additional staff were filmed also abusing and watching the abuse.

“Coleman said when she told management she had proof of the beatings,” they began looking for cameras, and destroyed evidence by removing her cameras. The Jay Nolan Center eventually let go two of the staff. One has been arrested and another is pending arrest. The executive director asserts that they took all possible employment precautions in hiring and training.

The parents are again caring for their son, and want to make sure other families do not have the same experience.

Ten Point Guide on Responding to Suspected Abuse of People with Developmental Disabilities
(for Parents or Family Members whose Loved One Receives Residential, Transportation, Day Program or other Services)

1. Know and believe that abuse can happen to your loved one
2. Become familiar with the signs of abuse. Any signs of injury, changes in behavior, mood, communication, sleep or eating patters are included.
3. When you suspect something is wrong honor your feeling and take action immediately. See #4.
4. When you suspect abuse, call a Child or Adult Protective Services agency and the police.
5. Do not discuss your suspicions with anyone at the program where you believe abuse is occurring, as they may deny any problem, punish your loved one, and attempt to destroy any evidence that may exist.
6. Remove your loved one from the program immediately.
7. If there are injuries or physical conditions, take your loved one to a physician, not only to diagnose and treat the condition, but create documentation of your visit and the findings. Take your loved one to a mental health practitioner who can document the changes in his or her behavior and mood and who can document what your loved one’s memories are of the abuse.
8. Create a document in which you write all of your activities. Begin with when you first suspected abuse or neglect. What were the signs or signals you noticed? Write the dates of these, and if there were injuries, detail what they were, their appearance, and where on the body you saw them. If staff gave an explanation, record this in your file. Write down when you called the police or protective services agency, the name of the representative, time and date of the call and what was said. If a staff member discussed this with you, write down what they said and their name and the date and time of the discussion.
9. Notify the Regional Center representative of your findings, suspicions and actions or your disability program in your state.
10. Get a police report. Contact the Victims of Crime program in your area and seek their support for reimbursement of costs and therapy for the family.