On Monday, May 21, 2012, The Assembly Committee on Human Resources held a hearing on the abuse and neglect of adults with developmental disabilities in New Jersey’s community care residences and other facilities. Witnesses included parents of individuals who suffered such abuse as well as members of New Jersey’s Special Response Unit (SRU).
The sons of two of the parents died as a result of abuse and neglect. The sons and daughters of other parents suffered serious physical and psychological injuries. In two cases, parents displayed photographs of their sons, exhibiting cuts and bruises as a result of beatings. Although the Special Response Unit (SRU) staff testified that these cases are fully investigated, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who serves on the Human Services Committee, noted that out of more than seven thousand reported cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation, less than 7 percent are fully investigated.
According to N.J.S.A. 30:6D-17, the SRU “shall ensure that every developmentally disabled person in a community residential facility receives adequate medical and dental care, a nutritionally adequate diet, a full daily program of structured activities, and those other services which are necessary to maximize the developmental potential of the developmentally disabled person in a manner least restrictive of personal liberty. Every developmentally disabled person shall have adequate protection from abuse and a wholesome environment in which to live.”
Nevertheless, the parents testified that they were barred from any involvement in the investigations, and little or nothing was done to protect their sons and daughters. When questioned about the exclusion of parents in the investigations, the three SRU officials struggled for a response. Additionally, the parents complained that they were barred from the rooms of their sons or daughters when they attempted to conduct their own investigations.
The phenomenon of abuse and neglect of individuals with developmental disabilities in residential facilities is not limited to New Jersey. Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sponsored a bill that would create a Justice Center for developmentally disabled individuals in residential facilities. The Justice Center would include a Special Prosecutor and Inspector General who would be charged with the responsibility to protect the civil and human rights of such individuals.
Much of the controversy surrounding this issue was ignited by a case of a woman who died from neglect in a New Jersey Community Care Residence. The woman, known as “Tara,” lost more than 70 pounds and weighed only 43 pounds when she died from neglect.
The parents who testified before Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle’s Committee complained that justice was evolving much too slowly. In fact, it is already too late for the sons and daughters who have died.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.