Il Guest Blog: Ready for Independence?

Joe Tate
Community NOW!

August 1, 2014

Recently, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report on the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) has made quite a splash in the Lone Star State. The report was particularly concerned with the publicly funded institutions known as State Supported Living Centers (SSLCs) (catch up on coverage from the Texas Tribune and Austin-American Statesman).

The Sunset report is clear and concise about how Texas should redirect its massive investment in institutional care to meet the ever growing demand for community based supports. But are SSLC residents ready for life outside of institutions? With the proper support in place, Community NOW! whole-heartedly believes that they are. Using the most recent collection of data from the Office of the Independent Ombudsman for SSLCs, let's take a look at some of the segments of this population (page numbers below refer to this report).

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Young People

It might be assumed that all people in SSLCs are older and have arrived at this setting because their aging families can no longer care for them at home. But the reality is that 196 residents (5.7%) are 21 or younger, and many of the children attend public schools in the community, travelling back to the institutions at night (p.6). At the San Angelo SSLC, for example, “three residents graduated from Water Valley High School in May. These students had a positive high school experience. They received encouragement and support from teachers, coaches and other students. Two residents, who will soon be moving to the community, attended the Senior Prom (p.48).” The fact that these children are served in the public schools in the community begs the question: why can’t the state provide supports for these children to live in the community?

People with a “moderate” level of IDD

Less than 10% of the total population has a “severe” health status, requiring intensive, 24-hour medical care, while 990 individuals at the SSLCs (29%) have a level of IDD designated as “moderate” or below. That means nearly one third of the total population should be ideal candidates for community placement. Corpus Christi SSLC boasts that its “residents have access to a variety of ... supports to promote independence and growth.” However, the Corpus SSLC has transitioned only three out of 228 people to the community over a 6-month period (p.25). One of these three had not been properly prepared for independent living and died in a preventable accident shortly after his transition. In its investigation of the incident, a U.S. Department of Justice monitoring team determined that the center did not have a critical plan in place for transitioning the man to community placement (source: Corpus Christi Caller Times).

Alleged offenders (those that have been charged but not convicted with a crime)

233 people (7%) living at the SSLCs are there because a judge deemed them to be unfit to stand trial (p.6). These alleged offenders are housed alongside the general population with IDD. At San Angelo SSLC, “one home serves females that are juvenile, many of whom were referred to the SSLC by juvenile courts. Two homes are dedicated to serving males who have inappropriate sexual behavior, some of whom have been charged with sexual offenses.” Any doubt that this arrangement is a recipe for disaster can be dispelled by the fact that DADS Regulatory sighted San Angelo in February 2014 for the lack of supervision of the female adolescent population (p.48). While alleged offenders should absolutely have access to the services and supports they need to have their day in court, the SSLCs may not be the best place to provide them.

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What can we take away from this brief overview of the SSLC population? With the proper supports in place, a significant portion of SSLC residents could successfully transition into the community, but we face two overwhelming barriers. First, historically, the state of Texas has a strong bias toward institutionalizing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and has been complacent, at best, with fully funding and building community supports for its most vulnerable citizens. Second, SSLCs do not prepare people for successful lives in the community, even if they may be entirely capable of such a transition.

It's long past time for Texas to integrate people with disabilities and end its obsession with segregation based on a disability label.

Take action! Sign on in support of Community NOW!'s Invest In Community statement, and check out next steps.

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About Joe

Joe Tate is Policy Specialist for Community NOW!, a personal care attendant, and brother to a young woman with an intellectual disability.

About Community Now!

Community NOW!Community Now! promotes inclusive communities for all Texan's often marginalized because they have a disability. We believe our loved ones with disabilities should have the option to live in their communities and not languish on long waiting lists for services or forced to live in a dangerous, dehumanizing segregated institution. CommunityNowFreedom.org.

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