March 24, 2016 - One of Legal Aid Society’s most vital programs is the Public Guardianship Program.
“You have people who have no one, who are vulnerable and have no one else to look out for them. These people unfortunately are not getting the best care,” said Rena Taylor, supervising attorney for Public Guardianship Project.
Our Public Guardianship Program serves as a guardian of the last resort for primarily indigent, adjudicated incapacitated senior adults residing in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee Counties who are without family or loved one to take care of them. This vulnerable population may have been subjected to abuse, negligence, and/or exploitation, having no one to advocate for them.
Today, the program provides both emergency and permanent guardianship to 98 individuals who have mental or physical disabilities, including developmental and age related disabilities in the four counties.
Kathy Morakis, one of two of our social workers for the program, said: “Working in the Public Guardianship Program, you are able to see the difference our involvement makes for a client!”
Range of Services/Referral System
Legal Aid’s Public Guardianship Program, which expanded its program to 3 outlying counties in 2015, offers a full range of case management services based on the individual’s personal needs. These services may include consent for medical and mental health treatment, management of finances, procurement of benefits, education and/or other specialized services.
Our expansion was the result of federal and state funding that was provided to ensure that every county in the state of Florida had an office for public guardianship. This state funding also dictates that Legal Aid Society must provide services to all those in need (this includes clients under the age of 60) that meet our criteria for public guardianship if we have the capacity to take them. Legal Aid’s Public Guardianship Program works as a team in order to provide a valuable service to many adults.
Originally, the majority of Legal Aid’s referrals came from Adult Protective and Family Services. Today, referrals come from a variety of agencies and facilities in the community that include: Victims of Abuse and Exploitation, Department of Children & Family Services (DCF), hospitals, Veterans Administration, probate court, the community, assisted living facilities, nursing and group homes.
The process to determine eligibility for a client’s need for public guardianship involves: completion of a referral form that is filled out by the referral source, an assessment of a client in their environment by one of our two Public Guardianship social workers, and a team meeting with the Public Guardianship attorney to determine a course of action. Once it has been established that a client meets criteria to require a public guardian, a judge will determine their level of incapacity, then allowing LAS the authority to determining a client’s housing and social environment, making medical decisions, applying for personal benefits, managing or disposing of property, representing clients in foreclosure cases, and filing on behalf of a client in order to recover assets. In several cases, the client may still retain certain rights such as the right to marry, the right to vote, determine his or her own residence, etc.
Kathy Morakis added: “People do not realize that our program is not stepping in, in a maternal sense but as an advocate. We are helping a client grow. A lot of times, clients may still have certain rights.”
Today, LAS’s Public Guardianship Project has a waiting list for Palm Beach County but is accepting referrals from Okeechobee, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties.
If you know of someone living in Okeechobee, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties that could benefit from the Public Guardianship Program and have already exhausted all other solutions to address these individual’s needs, please have them contact Legal Aid Society at (561) 655-5269.
For more information on LAS’s Public Guardianship Program please click here.