With the passage of a new law which our Governor, DSHS Secretary and some prominent groups which masquerade as disability advocates celebrate as “historic,” they are certainly correct. The reason that this law is “historic” is because it discriminates against our most vulnerable citizens and in particular our youth with complex needs.
I must admit that I am still stunned by the passage of SSB 5459. The process with which this bill was passed, the rhetoric which was continually pushed and the total dismissal of facts derived from data from the Department of Social and Health Services and The Developmental Disabilities Division’s own reports all pointed to a pre-planned action to dismantle the service system which supports a continuum of care for our citizens with disabilities.
There are so many issues relating to this bill which are questionable from a legal standpoint in addition to total violation of Federal Statutes as determined by The Olmstead Decision. Yet, for some reason, Governor Gregoire and DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus are celebrating what many of us consider one of the darkest days in disability advocacy.
SSB 5459 prohibits admission of children under age 16 to a Residential Habilitation Center (RHC) for people with developmental disabilities and limits RHC admissions of youth, age 16-21, to short-term respite or crisis care. Both of these two age groups are greatly discriminated against in this bill. The civil rights of these groups are being singled out and denied. This is a travesty – not only for these children but for their families and our communities as a whole.
What we need to focus on are the needed supports for our citizens. Prohibiting one group, based solely on age, even though they may require the needed supports that are provided in the RHC is denying these citizens their legal and civil rights. DSHS states that the children should be living with their families and in their communities. Yes, that is ideal but what DSHS and DDD are failing to realize is that there is a continuum of needs and this continuum goes across all age ranges. For some, living in a community home or family home is not safe due to the limited supports available.
Ms. Dreyfus and many others, speak about the residents in the RHCs as if most are elderly, have lived there most of their lives and that the families and guardians are fearful and unaware of the services in the community. Ms. Dreyfus is very misguided in her understanding of this.
In fact, there are many newer and younger residents who have been admitted to the RHCs in the past years. These families have chosen the RHC community as the better option for their children mostly because the services and community supports were not adequate or safe for their children. The RHC has saved the lives of many of these youth and strengthened their families by providing comprehensive, safe and healthy care to their loved ones.
I recently asked Ms. Dreyfus what would happen to these children under 16 who could not be safely cared for in a community residential home or family home. Her response to me was that the families will always have the choice of an RHC but they will have to go out of state. I ask, is that really a CHOICE? From my experience and others, the other choice that DDD would offer is to have the police take our loved one with a developmental disability to jail. Why are Washington State, DSHS and DDD refusing to allow our eligible youth full access to the needed supports and services which they are legally, by Federal Statutes, entitled to?