Restoring Dignity for Older Adults
VOA-MN's Center for Excellence in Supported Decision Making
From left, Amanda Hudson. Anita Raymond, John Kantke, and Kathleen Carlson of the Center for Excellence in Supported Decisionmaking
“It’s kind of a wake up call. Hey, what are we doing here?” – Attorney John Kantke -- Chair of the Elder Law Governing Council for the Minnesota State Bar Association
Too often people who need help navigating everyday life challenges give up more of their decision making freedom than they ever needed to or wanted to.
Through a collaboration called the Center for Excellence in Supported Decision Making (CESDM) Volunteers of America MN and WI is advocating for people who are most vulnerable. This innovative approach comes as courts often appoint guardians for people who are mentally incapacitated. Adults living with dementia or younger people who have a psychiatric or developmental disability find themselves in need of help with some everyday decisions.
Amid this uncertainty, families are often advised to apply for a comprehensive court-appointed guardian -- because “you might need it someday.” They do it out of a sense of caring but may not realize that their choices could spell the end of the person’s legal ability to make fundamental decisions about their lives.
The CESDM advocates a more layered approach for care – including a limited guardianship or another alternative. While VOA-MN Protective Services has been doing this kind of work for more than 40 years, a 2016 grant from the Administration for Community Living has recently enabled the organization to expand its work and partner with other agencies.
CESDM Project Director Anita Raymond said this type of work is part of a groundbreaking national movement toward a “person-centered” approach – to consider supported decision making as another alternative to guardianship.
She noted that sometimes “the dignity of risk” has been robbed from people. A court-appointed guardian is responsible to ensure the safety of those assigned to them, which sometimes can compromise the element of life fulfillment.
The Center’s social workers consult with families and professionals over the phone and in-person, providing in-depth advice and referrals, helping people identify all possible care options. An attorney working with CESDM can also provide advice on navigating the legal options related to Court-Appointed Guardianship.
“We all do better when we’re given opportunities to be challenged and grow,” the center’s attorney, John Kantke, noted.
While guardianship is sometimes the best choice, the Center looks at each assessment with an eye toward avoiding unnecessary guardianship and helping people maintain whatever level of individual freedom they can. Referrals to partners such as Lutheran Social Service are also part of the mix – especially in work to ensure that caregivers get the support they need to become, or remain, involved in assisting the person.
Social Worker Kathleen Carlson said, “When we’re working with someone who’s aging, they’ve already lost so many choices. (Guardianship) can take away even more opportunities.”
Kathleen noted that one of the more fulfilling parts of her job is in opening caregivers’ eyes to the many options available for supporting their loved ones.
Staff are excited about the possibilities of working at both an individual level and a community level. “We’re challenging the way it’s always been done,” Social Worker Amanda Hudson said. “It’s just very rewarding and exciting work.”
If you or someone you know could use assistance or guidance from the Center for Excellence for Supported Decision Making please call 952-945- 4174 or visit voamnwi.org/protective-services. Staff are also available to speak with community and church groups about their work. Give them a call!