Cuyahoga County is taking steps to protect adults with disabilities from abuse or neglect. The Guardian Partner Program aims to assess the care being provided to nearly 7,000 wards of the county.
Guardians currently provide a report every two years on any changes in diagnosis, care plan or living arrangements for adult wards, said Probate Court Magistrate and Deputy Court Administrator Jennifer Alexander. But the court doesn’t usually interact with the adults themselves outside of an initial hearing or service, she said.
“I am sure that most guardians are appropriately updating us as to the status of their wards, but we would like to sort of do a bit of a double-check,” Alexander said.
Twenty-five people are trained for the county’s Guardian Partners Program, she said. Those partners will visit each of the 6,867 wards under the care of a guardian due to mental or physical disabilities. Guardians range from family members to court-appointed attorneys.
The evaluation will start with a 30-minute visit, Alexander said, with the guardian present, if possible. The partner will submit a report to the county on the ward’s care and well-being, she said.
“And then certainly, if any concerns are reported, the court is going to follow up with a licensed social worker,” Alexander said.
That could result in a review hearing or alerting Adult Protective Services, Alexander said.
Because of the high number of wards in the county, Alexander said, each partner is required to have a background in social work. That includes retired and current social workers and both graduate and undergraduate students studying to become social workers.
The partners will be part-time county employees, Alexander said, and receive a stipend for each visit. The court is funding the program within its current budget and won’t need to seek additional funding, Alexander said.
Cuyahoga County is one of the first in Ohio to implement such a program, she said, and the handful of other counties testing out the partnerships are less populated and have far fewer wards.
“It is just sort of a best practice in the field that is not widely practiced yet in Ohio,” she said.
The county plans to complete all the initial evaluations in the next 18 months.