Recent articles in The New York Times cite rampant abuse in group homes operated by New York State and horrendous behavior on the part of New York State employees towards individuals with developmental disabilities.
In one heartbreaking criminal case, a state employee sat on young Jonathan Carey for a prolonged time, causing his asphyxiation and eventual death. What a terrible way to die and what an outrage that this situation and other horrors could occur here in New York.
But this is not the first time. Remember that New York State brought us Willowbrook, that infamous hell-hole of an institution right in Staten Island. Fortunately, the courage of advocates like our own Victoria Schneps and Manhattan’s Willie Mae Goodman brought about a social revolution and civil rights movement for people with developmental disabilities as they were delivered from the horrors of Willowbrook to fulfilling lives in community based settings.
The New York Times articles, as effective as they are in sensationalizing modern day aberrations in the systems and supports provided by New York State employees, do a disservice to the tens of thousands of dedicated and devoted staff throughout New York State who work each day – often at wages that are woefully inadequate – to help build better lives for people with developmental disabilities.
The articles do a disservice as well to the parents who have entrusted their sons and daughters to live within group homes. Many families struggle with having made that decision. And yet, despite The New York Times articles, the vast majority of group homes in New York State provide a wonderful life for the individuals living within.
The vast majority of those group homes are provided not by the large state bureaucracy but by individual not-for-profit agencies like the Guild for Exceptional Children.
Not-for-profit agencies have been the cornerstone of the aforementioned civil rights movement for people with developmental disabilities because we provide high quality services at a fraction of the cost of state operated services.
We care about the people we serve at the Guild.
Workers at the Guild are fingerprinted and carefully screened prior to hire.
They then attend pre-service training related to the needs of people in their care and then further training about the history of the field of developmental disabilities; specialized behavioral techniques; CPR; First Aid and an array of other training sessions as appropriate for the characteristics and needs of the residents or individuals attending the day program in which they work.
There is a culture of caring at the Guild and of workers at all levels wanting to provide good, dignified, fulfilling lives to the people in our care.
Most staff genuinely like their jobs and their work shows it.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there is an occasional problem. The Guild’s quality assurance staff ensures that each situation is carefully evaluated and that regulations and best practices are rigorously followed.
Appropriate consequences and systems change occur. This is good oversight. As the CEO of the Guild, I recognize that the quality of life of the people in our care is Job Number One. I recognize that the families who entrusted their son or daughter to the Guild want me to be sure that each individual is cherished and protected. The Guild is home to the people in our care and we do our best to make it a good home. We are proud of our record of service and of the thousands of individuals we have helped over the past 53 years.
We strive every day to build better lives and brighter futures and we are thankful for your partnership in that journey.
Paul Cassone is the Executive Director of the Guild for Exceptional Children