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Group homes: An inside view

Recent articles in The New York Times cite rampantabuse in group homes operated by New York State and horrendousbehavior on the part of New York State employees towardsindividuals with developmental disabilities.

In one heartbreaking criminal case, a state employee sat onyoung Jonathan Carey for a prolonged time, causing his asphyxiationand eventual death. What a terrible way to die and what an outragethat this situation and other horrors could occur here in New York.But this is not the first time.

Remember that New York State brought us Willowbrook, thatinfamous hell-hole of an institution right in Staten Island.Fortunately, the courage of advocates like our own Victoria Schnepsand Manhattan’s Willie Mae Goodman brought about a socialrevolution and civil rights movement for people with developmentaldisabilities as they were delivered from the horrors of Willowbrookto fulfilling lives in community-based settings.

The New York Times articles, as effective as they are insensationalizing modern day aberrations in the systems and supportsprovided by New York State employees, do a disservice to the tensof thousands of dedicated and devoted staff throughout New YorkState who work each day — often at wages that are woefullyinadequate – to help build better lives for people withdevelopmental disabilities.

The articles do a disservice as well to the parents who haveentrusted their sons and daughters to live in group homes. Manyfamilies struggle with having made that decision. And yet, despiteThe New York Times articles, the vast majority of grouphomes In New York State provide a wonderful life for theindividuals living within.

The vast majority of those group homes are provided not by thelarge state bureaucracy but by individual not-for-profit agencieslike the Guild for Exceptional Children. Not-for-profit agencieshave been the cornerstone of the aforementioned civil rightsmovement for people with developmental disabilities because weprovide high quality services at a fraction of the cost of stateoperated services.

We care about the people we serve at the Guild. Workers at theGuild are fingerprinted and carefully screened prior to hire. Theythen attend pre-service training related to the needs of people intheir care and then further training about the history of the fieldof developmental disabilities; specialized behavioral techniques;CPR; first aid and an array of other training sessions asappropriate for the characteristics and needs of the residents orindividuals attending the day program in which they work.

There is a culture of caring at the Guild and of workers at alllevels wanting to provide good, dignified, fulfilling lives to thepeople in our care. Most staff genuinely like their jobs and theirwork shows it.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, there is an occasional problem.The Guild’s quality assurance staff ensures that each situation iscarefully evaluated and that regulations and best practices arerigorously followed. Appropriate consequences and systems changesoccur. This is good oversight.

As the CEO of the Guild, I recognize that the quality of life ofthe people in our care is Job Number One. I recognize that thefamilies who entrusted their son or daughter to the Guild want meto be sure that each individual is cherished and protected.

The Guild is home to the people in our care and we do our bestto make it a good home! We are proud of our record of service andof the thousands of individuals we have helped over the past 53years. We strive every day to build better lives and brighterfutures and we are thankful for your partnership in thatjourney.

Paul Cassone is the executive director of The Guild forExceptional Children.

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