Too many people with developmental disabilities are being funneled into guardianships rather than exploring less-limiting options, a new government report suggests, and schools may be to blame.

A report out this week from the National Council on Disability finds that schools often provide biased information leading many parents to pursue guardianship, creating a “school-to-guardianship pipeline.”

As a result, 58 percent of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 18 to 22 have guardians. And, once established, the council said many people remain under guardianship for decades.

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For the report, the federal agency tasked with advising Congress, the president and other government officials on disability issues, looked at data on guardianships, information collected from stakeholders across the country and examined the experiences of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Washington, D.C. both before and after guardianship reforms took effect in the city in 2015.

School officials often ask parents about guardianship when students with disabilities turn 18, and in many cases educators do not present other options because they are unfamiliar with alternatives, the report found.

Families told the National Council on Disability that they were informed by schools that guardianship was the only way that a student with an intellectual or developmental disability could continue having a family member or friend assist at individualized education program, or IEP, meetings.

“Youth with ID/DD are ultimately disempowered by schools actively encouraging guardianship to the exclusion of less-restrictive alternatives, and not providing families and students in special education with sufficient information about the availability of a full continuum of decision-making supports,” the report found.

Beyond school, the council noted other factors also contribute to a higher risk of guardianship for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For example, some states have special laws for guardianship of people in this population as opposed to other groups. And, even though many states offer a path for people under guardianship to regain their rights, few people with disabilities or their families are familiar with such options.

The National Council on Disability is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to issue guidance to states outlining their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act to impose guardianship only as a last resort. And, the council said the Department of Education should increase awareness of its existing guidance highlighting the implications of guardianship and advising schools to also honor other forms of supported decision-making for students who remain in special education once they enter adulthood.

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