April 5, 2016 - Since 2010, Legal Aid Society’s Guardian Advocacy Project (GAP) has provided guardian advocacy to 27 individuals in Palm Beach County who have a documented developmental disability. These individuals have aged out of the foster care system, are under the age of 60, and either have no one to care for them or have lost their caregiver. Without a guardian advocate, many would have no oversight or would have been abandoned.
Jessica Kelson, case manager for GAP, explains how she helps clients maximize their potential and helps them achieve their highest level of independence by identifying resources in the community, assisting them with making safe budgeting choices and by providing guidance in planning for their future.
Q: What does the Guardian Advocacy Project do?
Jessica Kelson: The Guardian Advocacy Project offers a continuum of care, providing a comprehensive set of services that include assistance with finances and help with decisions related to their living environment, social situation, education, and medical care. In addition, we help to access resources for our clients in the community and work closely to make sure they are aligned with the proper services. GAP also strives to maintain clients in the least restrictive environment while maximizing their independence whenever possible. We are continually working to restore rights to clients who are able to demonstrate competency in certain areas while maintaining supervision over other areas.
Q: What is the impact that the Guardian Advocacy Project has on our community?
Jessica Kelson: The Guardian Advocacy Project impacts the community by minimizing clients’ risks and plays a role in preventing clients with disabilities from becoming victims of exploitation, abuse, and other criminal activity. Many of them have been exploited as children and are even more vulnerable as adults.
Q: What are some of the challenges that GAP clients have?
Jessica Kelson: GAP clients have limited financial resources at their disposal to assist with living expenses and other ancillary purchases. Previously, clients who had spent at least six months in the foster care system were entitled to a scholarship that assisted with living expenses. However, today the criterion to qualify for a scholarship no longer applies to most of our guardian advocacy clients. This leaves most clients living off social security payments at approximately $770 per month. One of the major roles we play is helping our clients make safe budgeting choices by monitoring their funds in order to safeguard their resources.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions about Guardian Advocacy?
Jessica Kelson: Caregivers and parents of children with a developmental or intellectual disability do not always know that they must make themselves their child’s guardian advocate before the age of 18. Prior to 18, parents or guardians must legally become the child’s guardian advocate in order to oversee certain life decisions that are in their best interest. A parent or caregiver cannot attempt to force a child who suffers from mental illness to take his/her medication without becoming a guardian advocate.