Center To Promote Alternatives To Guardianship
Months after prevailing in a guardianship battle that drew national attention, a woman with Down syndrome is the namesake of a new center challenging an “over-reliance on guardianship” for those with disabilities.
Margaret “Jenny” Hatch, 29, won the legal right earlier this year to make choices about where she lives and works. Her mother had sought guardianship and wanted Hatch to continue living in a group home where her decision-making abilities were limited.
Now, Hatch is the public face for a new effort known as “The Jenny Hatch Project” that will share resources and knowledge gained from her case and promote alternatives to traditional guardianship for other people with disabilities.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
“There are lots of people out there with disabilities like Jenny who have people around them who don’t listen to them and, even worse, they take legal steps to limit their choices,” said Tina Campanella, CEO of Quality Trust, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group that assisted Hatch with her case and is behind the new initiative launching this week.
“What the project will do is share stories and resources to help people to work with people with disabilities to make decisions so they can control their own lives,” Campanella said.
Currently, Hatch lives in Hampton, Va. under the temporary guardianship of her friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert. For one year, the couple have been directed to employ so-called supported decision making to help Hatch learn how to handle her affairs independently.
Under that model, Hatch’s guardians are to make the decisions that she would make if she were capable of expressing them, whether or not her guardians think such choices are in her best interest.
The case is believed to be the first-ever in which a court has ordered the use of supported decision making.
Hatch says her life now — living with her friends and working at a thrift shop — is like night and day compared to her existence under a traditional guardianship when she lived in a group home and worked in a sheltered workshop environment.
“They took away my computer, my cell phone,” Hatch said of her old life. “I didn’t like the way they treated me. They treated me like a child, but I’m an adult.”
There are no firm statistics about how many Americans with disabilities are under traditional guardianships where a court-appointed individual makes decisions based on what’s thought to be in the person’s best interest. But Campanella said she believes there are many people with disabilities who are currently under guardianships or at risk of one who, like Hatch, could benefit from supported decision making.
“There are way too many people with disabilities who could make decisions who are not being allowed to make decisions for themselves,” Campanella said. “It’s what any of us would want for ourselves.”