The Ohio Supreme Court moved last month to try to ensure a better quality of life for adults suffering from mental illness or who are unable to make sound decisions for themselves — a measure that has been hailed by at least one local disabilities expert.
The court amended state policy regarding adult guardianship cases on March 10, which made guidelines for family members acting as guardians, set in place training requirements for guardians and called for closer supervision of all guardians, according to an Ohio Supreme Court news release.
The amendment defines a ward as “any adult person found … to be incompetent and for whom a guardianship is established.”
Dennis Lehman, director of Service and Support Administration for the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the new amendments could help guardians understand their roles and expectations.
“… In one particular case a guardian was a pastor and he superimposed his beliefs on his wards,” he said. “He would not allow them any Halloween decorations, or to have R-rated videos in the house, or anything like that. He did not consider what the individual wanted in that case.”
Lehman said training session might help guardians understand the wishes of their wards.
“Guardians are responsible for the decisions they make, but they should consider what their wards want,” he said.
During a nearly one-year period of discussion, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Children and Families successfully recommended three rule changes, which will take effect June 1.
According to the news release, the current changes include applying guardianship regulations to family members, requiring courts to monitor a roster of guardians with 10 or more wards and requiring guardians to meet with wards quarterly.
Michael Smalz, a member of the Advisory Committee on Children and Families, called the amendments “a significant step forward.” He added, though, that there is still need for improvement.
“Statutory changes are also needed,” Smalz said in an email. “A pending bill … contains some helpful provisions, including the creation of a ward’s bill of rights and a requirement that every ward be given a copy of the bill of rights.”
Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, said these new amendments meet the standards set by the National Guardianship Association.
“The ultimate goal is to provide our probate courts with effective means to ensure the safety and well being of people who need our protection,” O’Connor said in the news release.
One of the amendments also requires adult guardian to attend a minimum of six hours of training courses as well as a three-hour course every year.
According to the report, the course review establishing the guardianship, the ongoing duties and responsibilities of a guardian, record keeping and reporting duties of a guardian and any other topic that concerns improving the quality of the life of a ward.
“While I would like to have seen training and visitation requirements that were as rigorous as the national standards envision, these new mandates are a very positive step,” Julia R. Nack, a past president of the National Guardianship Association, said.
Nack is also a certified master guardian who helped to draft the current rules.
The training courses — provided by the Supreme Court of Ohio or any other approved entity — will be free of charge for a limited time, and will be made available online by the end of 2015. The yearly three-hour courses will begin in the first quarter of 2016.
“It is important now for Ohio lawmakers to take up the issue of guardianship and provide the courts with the statutory and financial support they need to make these changes effective,” Nack said.